All the major elements of Hat Trick Productions' staging of Burn This are strong.
Lanford Wilson's drama is tastily wry and sardonic, his characters vivid and their plights intriguing. The lead performances in this production are all engaging.
But something important, yet undefinable, is missing in the play's key relationship, and that makes the whole less than the sum of its parts.
The story concerns three friends: a 30-something dancer, her gay male roommate and her sort-of boyfriend. We meet them just after the funeral of another friend, a renowned dancer who has drowned.
Into their lives comes the dead man's boorish brother, a mean, violent drunk. The woman and the brother stumble into an affair.
It's that relationship that doesn't work in this production, directed by Joe Winskye. That this woman, saddened by her friend's death but bright, attractive and facing an exciting new career, would be attracted to this man, so unrelentingly foul, doesn't make sense. And if that relationship doesn't make sense, the play's point becomes unclear.
But the reason the relationship doesn't make sense is hard to pinpoint.
Perhaps it's a lack of chemistry between the characters as portrayed by April Bender and Kevin Whalin, who are solid actors.
Maybe Bender should seem more damaged. More likely, Whalin should elicit something redeemable in his character. For one thing, his character lacks magnetism. Acclaimed New York productions of Burn This have had the role played by John Malkovich and Edward Norton, actors who can make distasteful characters charismatic. Just a hint of that kind of charisma, something that would draw Bender's character to the drunk, would greatly help this production gather its loose threads. Instead, Whalin's character is repulsive to the core.
Still, individually, both performances are impressive. Whalin's is especially commanding.
Chris Rutherford delivers a thoroughly enjoyable turn as the droll, aimless, empathetic roommate, and Winskye's set (a single room, set on a turntable to offer varying perspectives), uses the tiny stage at Silver Meteor Gallery in an ingenious way.
Overall, the production comes tantalizingly close to excellence, but it falls just short of effectiveness.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.