When you see a play that is extremely well written with splashes of satire and wit that makes complete sense, that has interesting, well rounded characters in conflict, that is theatrical and beautiful to look at and smart and seamlessly directed and where the set and costumes and lighting all add up to a terrific production what more could you ask for?
One such play is A Lifetime Burning now onstage at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters written by Cusi Cram. It’s an exceptional production. It’s as if for the first time in a long time the writer, director, set, costume, lighting designer and actors actually sat down and had this wonderful conference where they all decided what the play was about and how to go about making it happen. Of course, great writing always helps.
From the attractive set (Kris Stone) – all angles and stainless steel modernity with exposed brick wall which helps director Pam MacKinnon to ingeniously have actors enter and exit moving from the present to the past in the telling of this tall tale to the smart and chic costumes (Theresa Squire) and great lighting (David Weiner) to the impeccable casting of all four actors – this is a production not to be missed.
A Lifetime Burning is like a very finely layered Vidalia onion. Layers that are slowly peeled away exposing the truth and lives of all those involved.
We have a bi-polar with style Emma, a loner and a loser with a dwindling trust fund (Jennifer Westfeldt) who has written a memoir of her life – off her meds. Only it isn’t her life. It’s made up. She’s getting ready for a book tour and is on a liquid Vodka diet. Her angry, getting divorced, wound up sister Tess (Christina Kirk) who is a journalist on a decor magazine is furious with her and all to ready to go on the same diet. Throughout the play we come to understand their complicated relationship.
Emma is a volunteer, helping young Hispanics learn language. One in particular – lazy, adorable and confused Alejandro (an excellent Raul Castillo) who she thinks shows promise – not only in his aptitude for learning antonyms but in her bedroom as well.
Her beautiful apartment has been paid for by a hefty advance from publisher Lydia Freemantle (Isabel Keating – who gives a standout, caustic portrayal of an agent out to make big bucks with a tell-all book that is a good read whether or not it’s based on fact.) When the truth emerges all hell breaks loose. And it is delectable to see what happens.
Christina Kirk and Jennifer Westfeldt give commanding performances as the two sisters – Trying to understand themselves, their parents and how they have reached this point in their lives. It’s a fascinating study and explanation. Whether screaming at each other or sharing a pint of ice cream they are trying to discover the truth – whatever that is and trying to make sense of it all. All for our edification and enjoyment. Rush to see this one! Through September 5th.
www.primarystages.org Photo: James Leynse