Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The Art of Burning
Melia Bensussen directs Kate Snodgrass's play, which finds Patricia (Adrianne Krstansky), wanna-be contemporary painter, having just seen Euripides's Media. The title character of that work killed her children for revenge and Patricia is reactive. Mark (Michael Kaye) converses with her as they stand in a very gray conference room. Mark, mediator and friend of both Patricia and her husband Jason (Rom Barkhordar), is poised for argument rather than conciliation. In theory, Patricia and Jason will amicably sign a piece of paper and their marriage will conclude. The problem is that each has a very different plan for their daughter, Beth (Clio Contogenis).
Further, there's the question of Beth's whereabouts. It is actually Jason who is frightened–no one knows where Beth is. We will later discover that Mark has very real marital issues of his own with his wife Charlene (Laura Latreille), a woman who is close friends with Patricia. Jason, who comes across as an egotistical jerk, has impregnated Katya (Vivia Font). That plot line, thus, is more complex than it initially seemed.
There isn't any compromising or negotiating in sight for those on stage. Snodgrass injects scenes from the past in order to fill in details of the overall arc. While it takes a few moments to assimilate the back story situations, they are helpful and clarifying. Call the thrust of this drama domestic disaster and potential dissolution. All of the characters are temperamental and distraught. Since the play originated at The Huntington before moving to Hartford, performances, with nary a glitch, are acute through precise timing. Bensussen wisely pushes pace to match the script's aggression.
The production catches attention from its opening and is surely impactful. Patricia, Jason, Mark, Charlene, Katya and Beth all have issues, needs and choices to make. The accelerating action zeroes in upon control. One might hope that Mark, in his capacity as moderator, might lend calm and sanity: but, that is not the case.
Patricia is most beleaguered and also most ardent in her quest to realize her potential as an artist. She is concerned for and about her daughter, but she is not a mother who is also a skilled listener. Beth, certainly, is vulnerable. She is uncertain of her sexuality and wonders how others perceive her. Given the fracture within the nuclear family, she, coming of age, is a picture of uncertainty.
The Art of Burning has evidently been billed as a comedy. Hardly. True enough, Charlene is hilarious as she spews forth her love of playwrights Arthur Miller, Henrik Ibsen, August Wilson, and especially, Eugene O'Neill. Snodgrass' dialogue here for actress Latreille is striking and distinctive, and the performer lets loose when she references O'Neill at his Connecticut shoreline abode. Otherwise, this presentation is about anger verging on unbridled rage and, well, vitriolic behavior.
Luciana Stecconi's set includes panels that switch color hues to complement scenic evolution. Costumer Kara Harmon's red shirt that Patricia wears could be pivotal because it isn't certain whether there is blood or paint splattered upon it.
The Art of Burning is heartfelt even if its issues are not new. It's fair to say that, walking away from the theater, one is prompted to muse upon what the future might hold for any of those whose lives seem, as the virtual curtain falls, up in the air. They are all distressed, agitated souls.
The Art of Burning runs through March 26, 2023, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.