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'Burn This' review: The leads' sexual chemistry never catches fire

Keri Russell and Adam Driver star in Lanford

Keri Russell and Adam Driver star in Lanford Wilson's "Burn This," directed by Tony-winner Michael Mayer, at the Hudson Theatre. Photo Credit: Danielle Levitt

WHAT "Burn This"

WHEN | WHERE Through July 14, Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St.

INFO From $59; 855-801-5876, thehudsonbroadway.com

BOTTOM LINE Serious star power doesn't sufficiently ignite.

Adam Driver knows from the dark side. And much like the villainous Kylo Ren he plays in the current "Star Wars" trilogy, the man he's now portraying on Broadway is an emotional, complicated soul.

In the uneven revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 dark "Burn This" at the Hudson Theatre, Driver is compelling and charismatic as Pale (think Cognac, not skin tone), the grieving brother of promising dancer Robbie, who has drowned along with his  male lover in a freak boating accident. Pale enters midway through the first act in a rage, spewing nasty profanity about the state of the big city neighborhood and his near brawl over a parking spot, yet inexplicably sexy enough to foreshadow the unlikely romance to come.

Before that entrance, though, the play bogs down in more exposition than is necessary to get the story going. (It runs two and a half hours and you feel it.) As the lights come up, we see a disheveled Anna (Keri Russell of the recently concluded "The Americans" in her Broadway debut), just back from the funeral. Robbie was her roommate and dance partner. Russell comes off stiff and vaguely uncomfortable in the role — tentative, constantly fussing with her hair and not quite sure what to do with herself. The idea that she’s a professional dancer never comes across (every dance teacher I know would cringe at her attempts to stretch on the back of the sofa). More problematic, neither does her attraction to Pale.

The play, directed by Michael Mayer, doesn’t lack humor, mostly thanks to Larry, the third roommate played with delicious wit and gay charm by Brandon Uranowitz, and David Furr is convincingly dull as Anna's well-to-do screenwriter boyfriend. The action never leaves the spare, more shabby than chic Manhattan loft (set by Derek McLane) with a dramatic wall of industrial windows that allow for striking lighting effects by Natasha Katz. The '80s era costumes by Clint Ramos include some great dresses for Russell. And Driver in a purple woman's robe barely long enough to cover the essentials? Priceless.

This revival has been in the works for several years (plans for Jake Gyllenhaal to play Pale were scuttled because of "scheduling difficulties"), but clearly you need major star power to justify bringing back this particular Wilson piece. No matter who's in the lead, the play only works if the erotic tension between Anna and Pale is as incendiary as its title suggests, a moth to a flame so to speak. In this case, the fire does not burn nearly hot enough.

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