Preview: Honors Directing Thesis “Burn This”

200px-BurnThisThis weekend, “Burn This,” a 1987 play by Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson, will run in LPAC’s Frear Ensemble Theater. The production is senior Jeanette Leopold’s  Honors Directing thesis.
For Leopold, the performance is the culmination of a year’s work, which began last semester when she began looking over plays and casting. Even before that, she came to Swarthmore focused on this ultimate goal, transferring from Haverford her junior year in order to participate in the theater department’s Honors Thesis Program.
The play is set in a loft apartment in New York City, and the action centers on four characters — Anna (Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15), Burton (Daniel Cho ’15), Larry (Patrick Ross ’15), and Pale (Sasha Rojavin ’15) — coping with the death of their friend, Robbie, in a boating accident.
While the death looms large, the play is sometimes most striking for its insistent forward momentum. Despite the fact that Robbie dies 3 days before the play begins, there are moments of sudden levity. Humor emerges as a counteracting agent to the permeating gloom. Mocking the tackiness of a funeral becomes an avenue for moving beyond the events that led to it.
“It’s a play about grief and love, but it’s not about wallowing in grief,” Leopold said. “They’re trying to push past their grief, by finding humor and love in each other.”
The play also explores themes of identity and narrative. Returning to Robbie’s hometown for his funeral, Anna realizes that his family is unaware both of his dancing career and his homosexuality. She is forced to play the role of grieving widow, to construct stories of a false life. Pale enters the stage a drugged mess, seemingly drifting aimlessly through life; the next morning his life as a restaurant manager becomes apparent. What it means to know someone, honestly and fully, is an open, recurring question.
The set, designed by Marta Roncada ’14, resembles a cage, with black rafters jutting out diagonally over the stage and ending abruptly, suspended in air. The apartment is an isolated space but not impermeable: Robbie’s brother Pale bursts in uninvited, drunk, coked-out, a lurching, inertial force. An open window allows distant, almost imperceptible sounds of traffic to float in. Fragments of the quotidian — the harsh gurgle of a coffee pot, snatches of corny movie dialogue — break into even the oppressive silence of grief.
Performances will take place Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 PM in the Lang Performing Arts Center’s Frear Ensemble Theater.

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