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2 Burn (Fringe Festival 2011)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on August 17, 2011

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There’s an undeniable darkness at the heart of Alex DeFazio’s new play, 2 Burn, produced by Elixir Productions Theatre Company for this year’s NY Fringe Festival at The Living Theatre. And the darkness in a large measure resides in the character of Paul, an earnest college educator, as played by Jody P. Person, one of the show’s co-directors along with Jennifer Joyce. The darkness is all the more remarkable for being manifest in a character who seems pointedly to reject such categorization, as he subjects all experiences to the un-nuanced spotlight of his intellect, opining ultimately that there is no such thing as Love. Love is merely a social construct deployed by people for their own ends, Paul declares, and not in a tone that is hard-bitten or love-weary. Rather in an earnest and instructive manner, careful that his listeners do not fall into the folly of believing in such an illusion. Person’s Paul exudes an openness, an unblinking wholesomeness, apparently devoid of shadow. He’s kind of like a nihilistic Julie Andrews. Which is why we settle back and read him as a sort of chump, heading for a classic theatrical pratfall. Of course he’s going to fall in love. And love is going to rip him a new one.

The play wastes no time in setting up the scenario, ushering in Manny, a seductive if slight, failing student who appears to have handpicked the readably gay Paul to rescue him; and to teach him ‘other things’ besides. Manny has several large “do not engage” signs flashing about him, and we can only wonder at Paul’s naivete in overlooking them and rising to Manny’s sexualized bait. There’s plenty of shadow clinging to Manny and only a chump would take him at his word. Paul’s friend, Maureen, a precariously positioned black, lesbian adjunct professor at the college, attempting to teach Manny about poetry, sees what is going on and tries to warn Paul off. Will Paul listen? It’s possible that some hangover demons from Paul’s last relationship are propelling him onward, but armed with the belief in his own rationality, and a sense of mission, he proceeds, being pulled deeper and deeper into the deceits and evasions Manny lives by. Out pops Sarah, a figure from Manny’s past, undeniable proof of his duplicity and manipulation. Everything begins to stink and Paul finds himself on the brink of his own professional and personal destruction, as fate and plot would fittingly dictate. But in the final scene’s unsuspected revelation, a hidden darkness wells up out of Paul and a sudden reversal occurs, casting a much creepier light on the proceedings, and swapping the roles of predator and prey. Was Paul really blind all along, or was he just indifferent, certain in the knowledge that he was ultimately holding an ace up his sleeve, the ace of spades no less?

It’s a tale alright, though it is perhaps a little over long in the telling. It’s all very well casting Paul as the frontal-lobe-loaded rationalist, but do we have to hear so much of his academic name-dropping, or his turgid intellectualizations? The specters of homophobia and HIV/AIDS are invoked and contribute to the complexity of the story, but seem merely serviceable dramatic tropes played to up the ante.  The dialogue sometimes feels over-extended and over-heated, which brings us to another problem with the physical aspects of this production. There just is not enough heat. It would be a trial for anyone to discover the erotic side of Person’s Paul, wide-eyed and reasonable as he is, but Patrick Martin’s troubled, waif-ish Manny cannot convincingly do it. Much depends in the play on the contact between these two, but there is, alas, no chemistry. The problem is compounded by the fact that the staging seems somewhat adrift in the expansive performance space of the venue, diffusing any attempt at generating atmosphere. The sound effects reverberate from somewhere well off stage and their unevenness and surprising volume is distorting. The production struggles to emotionally and physically  fill the space. Given these setbacks, it is left to the actors to rescue what they can. Deena Jiles in the thankless role of Maureen, and Michelle Wood as a potentially fatale Sarah, rise gracefully to the moment.

LaFazio has produced a serious and deep-delving piece of drama here, and is to be applauded for that much. Nevertheless, it is profoundly difficult to establish an erotic atmosphere on any stage, be it a platform or a basement, and while one can sit through the present production willing the best for all concerned, sadly this 2 Burn just does not spark.


2 Burn
Elixir Productions Theatre Company
Writer: Alex DeFazio
Director: Jennifer Joyce & Jody P. Person

1h 40m
VENUE #6: The Living Theatre
Sat 20 @ 11 Sun 21 @ 9:45 Wed 24 @ 5:15 Thu 25 @ 2

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody P. PersonNo Gravatar August 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Dear Geoffrey,

I don’t normally do this, but I honestly agree with you on many levels. I wouldn’t say there was “no spark.” There were sparks here and there, at moments, but the sparks need to come faster and faster so that the ending would explode.

Here is the truth of the situation, I really feel myself was at the fault, I went up on my lines in the first scene…it destroyed my confidence…i think it nearly destroyed the play. I was lost in my head trying to make it work…missed some lines in other scenes…some moments didn’t work as planned (opening night jitters too…I think)…instead of being fully present with the very talented actors on the stage surrounding me, I was pushing too hard.

I’ve been behind the scenes directing for several years now, and have taken to the stage for the first time in ten years, in this production. We over rehearsed the night the before. Just before the show, I prepared a huge dinner for a large amount of people coming to see 2 Burn. I overdid it. I didn’t rest, unwind. The lesson is learned.

This weekend is going to be great. I’ve rested. Studied my lines hardcore. Rested some more. Deepened my character even further. Remind myself to take it easy and enjoy the experience. We rehearsed in a healthy way all week long. I developed some confidence that was missing – just by going back through all the secrets of this great acting tradition. And lastly, as Paul, I’m going to fall for Manny even deeper.

2 Burn will sizzle…like it is meant to do.

I really found your review helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

I hope you understand my reason for writing, I don’t want anyone else blamed but me.

With warmth (the kind that burns…lol),

Jody P. PersonNo Gravatar August 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

P.S. Forgot to say…it was certainly over long in its telling…Patrick Martin and I, we dragged our feet through the scenes quite a bit. We are now down to an hour and thirty minutes. I’m not sure if you realized, there was a late start to the show, due to being sold out, but truthfully…even with the late start…the show was 120minutes. This will never happen again, the correct pacing will get this show sparking for sure. And Patrick and I are going to add the right amount of heat.

Geoffrey Paddy JohnsonNo Gravatar August 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

Hi Jody. I, and everyone at THM, wildly applaud the efforts of the exceptional people involved in writing, directing, designing, and acting in works for theatre. We are keenly aware of the particularity of each performance and the comparative injustice of judging a running performance on the basis of one viewing. However, such is the lot of those who work in and around this singular medium. Each new performance allows for improvement and development and it is heartening to hear that your intentions bend in that direction (and not a little flattering to think they might be in response to words written by myself!). I wish you and the cast the very best.

HalGupsteinNo Gravatar August 22, 2011 at 11:59 am

While I normally enjoy seeing shows at the Fringe Festival, this was arguably the most sophomoric, irrelevant and insubstantial contribution to the world of theater yet. Why on earth would the writer create an intelligent character without giving him a shred of intelligence? Without exception, every character used the same voice and limited vocabulary to the point of lunacy. Jody Person has the vocal range and cadence of a Grandfather clock. Not only was there no chemistry on-stage, but the casting missed so many opportunities to elevate any mystery that would have remedied the piece from being completely telegraphic. I kept wanting to reach for the fast-forward button but ultimately made my downstage left exit after an unendurable seventy minutes of diatribe.

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