Presented by Boston Paywrights’ Theatre
Written by Ginger Lazarus
Directed by Steven Bogarty
Special events for the current run at BPT: Free screenings of the 2012 documentary The Invisible War on October 3 at 7:30 pm and 6 at 4:30pm. IMPACT Boston will sponsor a panel including members of the military on October 13th after the 2pm performance.
Review by Noelani Kamelamela
(Boston) Boston Playwright’s Theatre brings local playwright Ginger Lazarus’ novel and moving treatment of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac to the stage to serve many noble purposes. Originally conceived as a queering of the classic, over three years of research went into a play based around a lesbian serving in the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era. Eventually, reprehensible behavior in the military surrounding sexual assault came to be a large feature as well.*The set captures look of a small town near the mountains with a general store that screams middle of nowhere, USA. Set dressing, costumes and props reinforced the environment. Incidental music and lighting at key moments evoked the feeling of being trapped and cornered. This is not a town anyone would want to be stuck in after the sun goes down. Being different in any way could get you threatened, beaten and killed.
Honesty about those differences as well as taking action against unjust harassment takes a certain amount of courage. Cy Burns is clearly up to the task as the protective blogger who works to bring criminals in the military to justice. Interwoven into the play is how writers write: how coincidences and events can work their way into your consciousness, then eventually your conscience. Mal Malme showcases her full range as the multi-faceted protagonist with an excellent supportive cast. Each actor gets a chance to struggle with a difficult choice, but no one is better at making bad decisions seem reasonable than Steven Birkhimer as Dulac. The five-member cast had a flexible rapport, playing both comedic and serious moments with ease.
Mrs. Lazarus writes excellent comedy, and this piece is no exception. Her zesty one-liners are bright reminders that the sweetest moments can be fashioned in the middle of deep tragedy and injustice. Romance and romantic frustration is excellent fodder for light-hearted laughter as well.
Sometimes the best one-liners were delivered by Ian Michaels as Cole, who manages to say more with his body language and grunts than his short lines could convey.
The military in America has often been cited as a narrow and conservative institution. Unscrupulous members of the military are portrayed in Burning as possessing the opportunity to commit certain crimes without fear of punishment. Changing cover-up strategies and the crooked behaviors which grant these villains free rein will take quite some time and effort. Now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, differing sexuality should not be an excuse for discrimination, much as Truman’s Executive Order 9981 in 1948 legally condemned racial discrimination. However, gender is still a large piece of these crimes. Although equal numbers of men and women suffer sexual assault while in the military, women are far more likely to have that experience.
Overall the production captures shame, fear, and secrecy very well through silence as well as bombastic action. It provides few answers as to why a soldier would find it appropriate to apply inhumane tactics of war to the civilians they are charged to protect as well as their fellow soldiers. The stance of the piece insists that evil weighs down its perpetrator, that all lies create an equal weight despite the established respectability of the liar.