subscribe: Posts | Comments

Brandon Somers terrific as gay roommate Larry in ‘Burn This’


Burn This 06On stage now at The Lab is Lanford Wilson’s Burn This. Playing the part of a gay ad man by the name of Larry is Lab newcomer Brandon Somers.

While Burn This may represent Somers’ Lab debut, Brandon is no stranger to the stage. He has appeared in various shows ranging from Grease to The King and I. After finishing his studies in Music Therapy, he plans on continuing to pursue acting in tandem with having a fulfilling career as a music therapist. But for now, he is content to be Larry on Burn This 12The Lab’s intimate stage.

Somers is terrific in the part. Although Somers’ Larry is clearly gay in both speech and mannerisms, his sexuality has little to do with who he really is. Larry’s a creative who once aspired to be a top-flight dancer but has settled instead for a stifling career in advertising out of fear and self-doubt. This is not a gay issue. It’s a predicament faced by visual and performing artists, musicians, writers and Burn This 21other creatively-inclined men and women every single day regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Southwest Florida is full of visual and performing artists who’ve returned to their first love after putting their passion on hold in order to pursue less-satisfying but more remunerative careers in teaching, law, and corporate America. And this is precisely how director Anne Dodd and Somers portray and play the role.

Burn This 39Difficulties abound when straight actors undertake gay roles. They must be on guard against the temptation to resort to stereotypes and caricatures – not only in their own thinking but in the words given to their character in the playwright’s script. Clearly, Larry is a good listener, loyal friend and insightfully empathetic, all traits customarily ascribed to gay men. But Larry displays these qualities Burn This 41in connection with his roommate Anna and her boyfriend Burton not because he is gay, but because he understands their plight. Anna wants to transition from dancing to choreography but is hamstrung by uncertainty and self-doubt. Burton has this really good screenplay in him, but he won’t pursue it because it might not be a commercial success. Larry understands what they’re going through and are up against because he’s lived it. And their struggles provide him with a huge, life-affirming pay-off – Burn This 48the ability to experience their creative journey vicariously as their friend and ersatz mentor.

Somers’ challenge in being true to his character is complicated by more than the need to see Larry as a person rather than a gay ad man. That’s because for the playwright, Larry is a stand-in for Manhattan’s gay community of the late 1980s, which faced not only rampant homophobia, but the advent of the Burn This 52AIDS epidemic. In a very real sense, the death of Anna and Larry’s other roommate, Robbie, and his lover, Dominic in a freak boating accident was a metaphor for the legion of gay actors, dancers, artists and musicians who got sick and died at such an alarming rate.

Burn This 68Lanford Wilson left it to Anna, Larry and Burton to express the shock, grief and anger of those they left behind – their utter sense of helplessness and their resentment over the sheer waste the epidemic inflicted on New York’s arts and entertainment community. But that’s not Somers’ problem in Burn This. His task is to personalize the loss. Robbie and Dominic were friends. Robbie was a roommate and Dom was preparing to move in with them when fate so nastily intervened. And to the credit of both Somers and director Anne Dodd, we feel Larry’s pain not as a stand-in Burn This 74for an entire community, but as a young man who’s been robbed of two good friends in the prime of their lives.

Whether reviewers or audience members pick up on these and other metaphorical fine points is and must always be secondary to the playwright’s and actors’ primary mission of telling the best possible story they can. In this regard, Larry has a specific function. He’s a catalyst. It’s Larry’s role – and Burn This 67hence Somers’ responsibility – to move the action toward its eventual resolution or denouement. Larry helps Anna understand that she can use her conflicted feelings for Pale to create a beautiful dance. He nudges Burton to embrace authenticity in both his professional and personal lives even if this means breaking with tradition. And he’s the one who provides the framework in which Anna and Pale can embrace their feelings for one another – even if Larry and the rest of us question the wisdom of these two polar opposites pursuing a permanent relationship with each other.

Burn This 77People often marvel whenever a straight actor successfully plays a gay character. But that’s not what good actors like Sean Penn, Heath Ledger, James Franco or Eric Stonestreet do. They find common ground with their character and focus on that. And that’s precisely what Brandon Somers does in The Lab’s Burn This. So when you see the production (it’s a must), don’t marvel over how he pulls off playing a gay man. Marvel instead over his Burn This 81ability to play a kind and decent guy who just happens to be gay.

Kudos to you Brandon Somers. We hope to see more of you on stage!

February 7, 2017.


Comments are closed.