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Burn This

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The acclaimed dramatist Langford Wilson died last month at age 72. But before his departure from this earthly stage, his 1987 play, Burn This, was already in production for its April 3rd opening at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum.

Wilson’s scripts—Hot L Baltimore is a prime example—offer actors the opportunity for deep and faceted characterizations, in plots that seem taken from the gritty, pitiless corridors of urban American life, circa late 20th century. Under Nicholas Martin’s straight-arrow direction of this L.A. revival of Burn This, we get the full-flavor of Wilson’s way with words, as well as a taste of his talent for transforming a quotidian situation into a dramatic circumstance.

The show opens with New York choreographer Anna (the lush and limber Zabryna Guevara) grieving the loss of her friend and roommate Robbie, in their lower Manhattan Loft (Ralph Funicello’s cityscape scenic design is an intricate replication of the “city that never sleeps”). Robbie was a professional dancer who happened to be gay.

Soon Anna is joined in her sadness by her love-interest, Burton (Ken Barnett, poised and confident), a wealthy screenwriter. Later Anna’s other “roomy,” Larry (Brooks Ashmanskas in a hilarious, albeit stereotypical performance), makes his grand and quite queenly entrance. Larry too was once a dancer. Now, with his outgoing personality, he’s moved onto advertising; he’s an ad-man.

When Robbie’s brother, Pale (Adam Rothenberg in a high-pitched portrayal), unexpectedly arrives at Anna’s apartment—drunk and disheveled—Anna is somehow touched by his combination of volatility and vulnerability (though many of us theater patrons may not grasp or appreciate what supposedly is explained as shear animal magnetism between the two). 

Wilson’s play irritates, but it does so with authenticity; it’s the same sort of irritation that comes with seeing a worthy lady take up with an undeserving lout. We ask ourselves, what could she possibly see in him? But when pheromones take over, the senses can conquer the mind in a fashion similar to a swarm of piranha consuming a water buffalo. The bison doesn’t stand a chance. Maybe that’s what accounts for such well-worn clichés as hopelessly, helplessly in love and love is often blind. But in the case of Anna and Pale, another bromide may come to consciousness: There’s no accounting for taste.

And, for this critic, that’s what’s infuriating about Wilson’s would-be love story: We tend to lose patience with Anna’s serial set of poor choices. It’s intriguing that Wilson would have choreographer as a career for Anna. The contrast that exists when we compare Anna’s professional path—requiring concentration, self- control, and discipline—to the rocky road of her personal life, is indeed a wide divide.

Pale, on the other hand, is a rough-hewed New Jersey restaurant manager. He’s as uncouth and blunt as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. The difference in scenarios is telling, however. In Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar,” Stanley is the one intruded upon. In Wilson’s relational query, Pale is the intruder, which leads us back to the question raised earlier: What could she possibly see in him? Readers, if you have any speculations or feel that you’re able to account for Anna’s unlikely attraction to the pugnacious Pale, contact the critic at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . He would love to consider your thoughts on the matter.

Burn This continues at the Mark Taper Forum—135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles—through May 1. Show time are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. There’s also a 6:30 p.m. performance on Sundays. For reservations, dial (213) 628- 2772. For online ticketing, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.