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Burn This: A Complicated Love Story:

Editor-at-Large

The Ruskin Group Theatre is one of Santa Monica’s treasures. A hotbed of activity under the leadership of Artistic Director John Ruskin and its energetic young producer Mike Myers, the theatre has been home to a number of highly professional, critically acclaimed hits such as Faithful and @Heart, to mention just two. The theatre’s sense of giving back to the community takes the form of “Fostering Imagination,” a program that sponsors foster kids in theatre and film classes culminating in several original productions each year, as well as the Café Plays in which writers, actors, and directors meet early in the morning, are given a theme, and then write, produce, and perform a piece that evening. Show business notables such as Ed Asner, Dylan McDermott, Chris Malkey, Anthony Hopkins, and the late Anthony Franciosa have contributed their collective talent. All this said, it is particularly disappointing that its latest production, a revival of Lanford Wilson’s wonderfully written, poetic love story, Burn This, does not nearly measure up to the theatre’s level of excellence. The story revolves around the mysterious boating death of Robbie, a gay dancer who lives with Anna, his female dance partner (Marisa Petroro), Larry, another gay roommate (Aaron Misakian), Burton (Jonathan Blandino), Anna’s would-be boyfriend, and Robbie’s brother Pale (Dominic Comperatore), who shows up in the middle of the night to collect Robbie’s personal effects.Petroro, who is much more cinematic than theatrical, gave nothing more than monotone line readings. Her interpretation lacked any sub-text and, although the circumstances called for her to be sad and depressed, Ruskin should have prevented her from playing the text and help her breathe some energy in her character. Blandino’s Burton character is a successful writer who is courting Anna. The actor lacked a certain amount of focus and was prone to gazing into the audience or up at the lights during some of his beautifully written speeches. Misakian, an obviously talented man with a strong stage presence, relegated his Larry to a cartoon with cliché mannerisms, over-the-top mugging, and playing to the audience. In his more serious moments, one could glimpse his acting ability.The highly polished, professional performance given by Comperatore as the bombastic, emotionally disturbed married brother was riveting and the glue that kept the action from totally falling apart. His character is multi-layered and like the proverbial onion, little by little his performance peeled away Pale’s complexity revealing the pain, softness, loneliness, and longing masked by a rough, belligerent exterior. His mercurial transitions grow out of his deep concentration and his moment-to-moment reality, leaving you somewhat breathless. The love story that develops between Pale and Anna is far from conventional and offers some surprises.Director Ruskin has excellent theatre credentials and perhaps could have been more helpful in guiding the actors to achieve a higher level of excellence. But, although this is not the Ruskin Group Theatre’s finest hour, this is an exciting theatre space and, based on past productions, most assuredly future productions will reach the high level of excellence we’ve come to expect.

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