Monday, March 13, 2023

The Art of Burning - Hartford Stage

Relationships can be difficult.  Divorces are messy, especially when the custody over a teenage daughter is concerned.  That’s the basic message of playwright Kate Snodgrass’s matter-of-fact work, The Art of Burning.  Inexplicably described as a comedy, this straightforward production treads on familiar, well-worn ground.


Patricia (Adrianne Krstansky) is meeting with her ex-husband Jason (Rom Barkhordar) to sign a mediated divorce settlement worked out by their lawyer friend Mark (Michael Kaye).  However, after Patricia sees a production of Medea and starts internalizing the themes of the ancient Greek tragedy, she demands new language that includes sole custody of their teenage daughter Beth (Clio Contogenis), who, as a fifteen year old, is going through her own identity and developmental issues.  Jason, who is now involved with a new woman, Katya (Vivia Font), is flummoxed as he has been plotting with Mark to do the same.  Complicating the picture is the relationship of Mark and his wife Charlene (Laura Latreille). Has it become too staid?  Is she cheating?  And does she really not like musicals? 


The story moves forward and utilizes flashbacks to help fill in the limited backstory of the characters and their motivations.  The action takes place on Scenic Designer Luciana Stecconi’s minimal set that incorporates Aja M. Jackson’s lighted grid system within the floor that, during the course of the show, sections off the stage to designate locale and time.  Director Melia Bensussen uses the set almost as a chessboard, moving pieces (characters) about the stage in simple, measured steps.  At the show’s conclusion, it is left for the audience to decide whether it’s checkmate or a draw.


Ms. Snodgrass has looked to add a new twist to the serviceable plot by interjecting themes of Medea.  In that work, Medea becomes enraged over his husband’s infidelity and kills her children.  Is this an act of revenge? Or, in a sense, can this be seen as a deed of kindness?  Could Patricia, who is constantly worrying about the safety and future of her daughter, feel ending Beth’s life is a positive stroke?  It is this question which provides the faintest amount of intrigue and drama to the production.


The six person cast is uniformly fine.  They are emotional and bedeviling when appropriate and calm and rational at other points.  Nothing unexpected in the production occurs to elevate their assured portrayals. 


The Art of Burning, playing at Hartford Stage through March 26, 2023.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

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