We Are Burning
nytheatre.com review by Spencer Chandler
August 15, 2004
The description in the FringeNYC Program Guide for We Are Burning, a new play written and directed by Aaron Michael Zook, reads “Prometheus, Thief of Fire, returns to the world of Men to witness The End. And serve a mean cappuccino.” Upon reflection, this is a fairly accurate snapshot of a play in which sassy remarks undercut challenging premises, before they have a chance to really take hold.
With juxtapositions of banter and philosophical probings, coffee shop “reality” and mythical-Greek destruction, We Are Burning frustrates: the world is indeed burning and the gods are there to see it, yet self-absorbed mortals dismiss the stakes and chatter on. What lingers is a feeling that the writer has brought up important ideas, only to knock them down with breezy dismissals from the mouths of sitcom types.
Prometheus (Greg Horton) possesses the unique quality of being able to see the future, which provides fodder for several gags and an interesting dynamic, but ultimately confines the character to a smug, “I-can-see-this-all-coming” attitude, which tends to rob the innocence and surprise from his scenes. While Horton’s stage presence and vocal control are impressive, they cannot transcend Prometheus’ dubious gift, and the result is a bind for both the play and actor.
The Greek Chorus (Lorinne Lampert and Sarah Garvey-Potvin) display great charm as oddball anachronisms, at times indecipherable in their simultaneous declamations, but powerfully affecting in their gradual breakdown into distinct individuals, the highpoint being a delirious and enchanting slumber-party style fight.
Less effective are the setup and trajectory for the two modern-day characters, Man and Woman (Kris Bratton and Margaret Cross). Their relationship, like their names, is vague. Their musings are often ponderous and diffuse—tough material for any actor to make compelling.
Consequently, it’s hard to care about Mankind’s fate, so one looks elsewhere for engagement, finding it in a string of secondary characters: Jamie Neumann plays Io, a deranged and grieving Greek woman beloved of Zeus, with admirable abandon and depth charge; Will Allison has dignity and comic subtlety in each of his three roles; Ed Avila offers strength and savvy as a leather-clad Bellerophon; and Todd Reichart turns in a commendable appearance as Oceanus, a clever Steve Martin-esque depiction of a forgotten god.
Zook is possessed of a fertile, playful imagination and inspired by some very tough, hard-to-express ideas: “Why at the height of our knowledge are we so unhappy?” and “What happens to us when we die?” (Prometheus, sadly, can’t answer). Some of his choices in staging yield touches of real feeling, yet no one theme or idea ever gets its due, and true momentum rarely develops.
When the play finally builds to a lovely, haunting climax at the end, instead of trusting that last image of a world on fire, the play shifts once again, lurching into a didactic epilogue. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a uprooting a tender young sapling, only to expose its dangling, helpless roots. A deeper involvement in any one of Zook’s interesting ideas would surely yield a fuller, more satisfying result.