Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Burn This
Aux Dog
Review by Wally Gordon



Photo by Russell Maynor
Most Albuquerque theaters have the kind of name you would expect of small theaters in the southwest hinterland: Adobe, the Cell, Camino Real, Opera Southwest, South Broadway Cultural Center. But then there is the Aux Dog.

The name is not pronounced as if it were either English or French but as if it existed in its own world, as if it were spelled "ox dog." The name drives from its founding nine years ago by Eli Browning. He had a dog who followed him everywhere, in the theater, at rehearsals, on stage—his "auxiliary dog." Eventually, someone shortened auxiliary to aux but retained the pronunciation of the first syllable of the full word. The theater's repertoire can be as unusual as its name.

For those familiar with Aux Dog, its current revival of Lanford Wilson's off-beat 1987 comedy Burn This is hardly a startling choice. The two-act play (which has been shortened by a third from its original running time of more than three hours) is about the collision—no other word seems as appropriate—of four characters. The central character, the dynamo who moves the plot, fascinates the audience, and nearly turns the stage upside down, is Pale, played with believable brio and constantly swirling angst and anger by Martin Andrews. He is a nationally experienced actor, director, and teacher who currently has a theater class at CNM. His performance is nothing less than a tour de force. It is difficult to imagine what this performance would have been like without him.

Pale is either in love or in lust (or both) with Anna (Aleah Montano), an attractive and ambitious young dancer. Montano well communicates Anna's contradictions: a dancer's grace combined with a sorrowing young woman's awkward fears and frustrations.

Pale lives in a New York City apartment with Larry (Isaac Christie), a young unattached gay man who possesses wisdom and wit beyond his years and an emotional balance beyond the reach of the other characters. The fourth character, and unfortunately the least interesting, is Anna's lover, Burton (Nick Fleming), a wealthy, handsome, all-American type: stolid, strong and by-and-large unemotive. Fleming, however, can hardly be blamed for the lack of depth the playwright has attributed to the character, who Wilson clearly intends to be a foil for Pale, his opposite in every respect.

Wilson, who died five years ago, was one of the most talented and celebrated of modern American playwrights and won a Pulitzer Prize. While Burn This is an interesting play, it is hardly his best. Nevertheless, it has been revived numerous times. Another production is scheduled for Broadway next year starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Pale.

Pale, Burton, and Anna spin out a love triangle with Larry serving sometimes as midwife, sometimes as wry commentator. When the play opens, Anna is mourning the drowning death of her friend, roommate, mentor, and not-quite-lover, the gay dancer Robie. Pale, Robie's older brother, bursts in on her mourning like a tornado, and the plot proceeds from there along fairly predictable lines.

Under Lee Kitts' sure-handed direction, several potentially awkward scenes, including a fist fight between Pale and Burton, romantic clinches between Pale and Anna, and a small fire in which a private note is actually burned, are staged with precise timing and careful control. One of the oddities of this play is that the characters seldom wear street clothes. They either sport a formal gown, a tuxedo, or a bespoke suit complemented by alligator-skin shoes, or disport mostly undressed. For example, within minutes of bursting on the scene, Pale has removed his shoes, his socks and his pants.

The set is interesting and unusual. The central space is largely empty as befits a bohemian apartment that doubles as a dance studio. Its principal accoutrements are a bar for dance exercises, a large photograph of a dancer in the midst of an acrobatic leap, and a picture window that both unites and separates the apartment from the chaotic, turbid, and terrorizing world of the New York streets.

Burn This runs through October 2, 2016, at the Aux Dog Theater, 3011 Monte Vista Boulevard, NE, in Albuquerque's Nob Hill district. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. (Aux Dog has announced a new policy of discounting tickets for all its shows during opening weekends.) For information and tickets, call 505-254-7716 or go to auxdog.com.


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