Theater Review: THE ART OF BURNING (Huntington Theatre, Boston)

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by Lynne Weiss on January 27, 2023

in Theater-Regional


Fast-paced and gripping, laced at times with humor, The Art of Burning opens with an ominous threat: “Sometimes you have to kill the things you love to save them,” Patricia (Adrianne Krstansky) announces, putting the audience on alert. The ominous implications of this statement build when we hear Patricia discussing a performance of Euripides’s Medea (in which a woman murders her children as an act of revenge) with her friend Charlene (Laura Latreille). Tension builds when Patricia’s fifteen-year-old daughter Beth (Clio Contogenis) — the focus of a custody negotiation between Patricia and her soon-to-be ex-husband Jason (Rom Barkhordar) — goes missing. When painter Patricia appears in a smock streaked with red, Mark and Jason wonder whether they are seeing paint or blood.

Adrianne Krstansky, Michael Kaye, and Rom Barkhordar

Director Melia Bensussen heads the predominantly female creative team for this production, with a script by playwright Kate Snodgrass, scenic design by Luciana Stecconi, and costumes, lighting, and sound by Kara Harmon, Aja M. Jackson, and Jane Shaw. The minimalist set consists of a blandly functional conference room (that eventually becomes an art gallery) where Patricia, and later Jason, meet with a mediator to discuss the terms of their divorce. Throughout the 85-minute-performance, effective use of lighting keeps our attention directed on different parts of the stage to allow flashbacks and set changes with no loss of momentum.

Rom Barkhordar and Vivia Font

Krstansky and Contogenis shine as a deeply sympathetic mother-daughter team working out conflicts through their love for one another.  Krstansky as Patricia brings the rage of a woman repeatedly overlooked as an artist and wife. Contogenis as Beth is powerful while mining humor as a teenager with her own brand of rage over her parents’ break-up and her feelings of powerlessness in the face of social media pressures. Latreille and Michael Kaye as her husband Mark pull off a terrific scene in which Charlene confesses her true feelings about Mark’s taste in theater that culminates in a passionate embrace. Katya (Vivia Font) manages to win our sympathy for her own challenging circumstances, despite her role as the other woman leading to the break-up of Patricia’s marriage.

Adrianne Krstansky and Laura Latreille

The pace of the show kept my attention, but in the end, I felt the script failed to deliver on Patricia’s ominous assertions. A sacrifice is called for. And while I was relieved that no children were murdered in the course of this play, the failure to demand more of these characters left me unsatisfied.

Clio Contogenis

photos by T. Charles Erikson

The Art of Burning
Huntington Theatre Company in association with Hartford Stage
The Huntington Calderwood/BCA, 527 Tremont St. in Boston
ends on February 12, 2023
for tickets, call 617-266-0800 or visit Huntington

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