Neo-Nazis, Nudity, Racism Give ‘Burning’ Lots of Heat: Review

Stephen Tyrone Williams and Larisa Polonsky in Thomas Bradshaw's "Burning," directed by Scott Elliott. The production opens on Monday, Nov. 14 at The New Group. Photographer: Monique Carboni via Bloomberg

A German neo-Nazi extols the digestive benefits of bran in “Burning.” Two gay pedophiles lecture a third about ethics, and the sexual activity onstage is so copious that multiple couplings sometimes occur simultaneously.

The tenderest simulated sex scene involves one neo-Nazi pleasuring another. But Thomas Bradshaw’s epic, presented by New York’s New Group, isn’t very sexy (and how most of the cast do nude scenes in the drafty theater is beyond me).

Three stories unfold separately and gradually intertwine. A teenage gay hustler (Evan Johnson) in 1983 San Francisco comes to New York to study acting. His teacher (Andrew Garman) and the teacher’s boyfriend (Danny Mastrogiorgio) take him under their wings.

In present-day Germany, a 24-year-old neo-Nazi (Drew Hildebrand) cares for his 16-year-old sister (Reyna de Courcy), incapacitated since a car accident that killed their parents. And a 30-year-old black American artist (Stephen Tyrone Williams), who doesn’t publicize his race, prepares for a gallery show abroad following the death of an aunt.

The artist’s wife (Larisa Polonsky), her half-brother (Hunter Foster) and a Berlin prostitute (Barrett Doss) also figure in.

Bradshaw has called his work “reality on crack.” The nearly three hours overflow with plotlines, ideas and black humor too ugly for polite society, all pointing to general unconnectedness.

“We should follow all our impulses, and deprive ourselves nothing,” the aspiring actor says, citing Marquis De Sade. “Nature has filled us with these impulses to act on them.” For some patrons, the impulse was to leave, and even those of us who remained found ourselves scratching our heads.

And yet, under Scott Elliott’s sympathetic direction, these characters struck me as more connected than alone, in a show that made for memorable and eerily entertaining theater. Even if the big ideas don’t entirely cohere.

Through Dec. 17 at 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239-200; Rating: ** 1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Philip Boroff is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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