PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Burn All Night
Pysanky eggs are ornate Ukrainian Easter Eggs. In order to make them, the artist coats a raw egg with several layers of wax and once the shell has hardened, she decorates it with exquisite traditional symbols and motifs. For the final step, she must poke a small hole in the egg and drain the yoke.
On a related note, last Friday, I caught the last performance of Burn All Night at the American Repertory Theater.
This new, apocalyptic and experimental pop musical for Generation Y plays in OBERON, the theater’s nightclub venue. If I were to glance at the show’s Pinterest inspiration board, I would probably see a variety of results derived from the Google search query, What Theatrical Spectacle Would Appeal to Millennials within T-Distance of the Harvard Square area? The show features cell phones, a youthful and racially diverse ensemble, actors that interact with the audience, an exciting score, and an expensive bar for slightly older patrons. It’s an enticing package.
However, it’s better characterized as a pop/rock concert with an apocalyptic theme, rather than a musical. I say this because the show relies heavily on its sound effects, the score, the venue, the choreography, and the talents of its performers. Plot is completely secondary, maybe even tertiary. The show is designed to overstimulate the audience’s five senses and delight them with the possibility that actors might graze them accidentally. Thus, while the audience roars in approval, the show maintains gaping plot holes.
Granted, one might argue that most successful musicals have bizarre plot holes. Burn All Night proves that this is not something to celebrate or continue.
The plot summary is as follows. Bobby- a fresh-faced kid looking for a new, artistic life- enters NYC full of aspirations… all of which are immediately overshadowed by a love triangle- not between him, but rather, three of his new friends. Although he is crashing with Holly, his old friend, and her boyfriend Zak, he complies when a complete stranger, Will, asks him to distract Zak so he can get to Holly. Somehow, Bobby feels fine lying to Zak, for the express purpose of making sure a creepy stranger can hit on Holly, his sole friend in the most cut-throat city in the world. Will and Holly have a dramatic past, and the sexual tension is so incredibly powerful that Holly cheats on Zak. Surprise. Over weed, Bobby and the oblivious Zak discuss the end of the world. Then, it’s suddenly the literal end of the world. There are many natural disasters that occur, and everyone’s phones shut off, which is the worst disaster of all, of course. The whole gang stays at Will’s posh beach house, where they reflect upon the end of the world. Then, the truth conveniently comes out over a classic game of Never Have I Ever. There’s shouting. There’s anger. In the end, only Holly and Bobby are friends and the world has ended.
What a ride.
Aside from the cheap “love triangle” trope, the biggest problem with the script was Bobby’s decision to lie to Holly. He has absolutely no motivation to manipulate his best friend and her boyfriend, both of whom have offered him incredible hospitality. The little information we know about Bobby indicates that he was scared and immensely grateful to be taken in by a familiar, extremely close friend. Moreover, he never displayed any dislike or motivation to screw over Zak, as the boyfriend has been presented as a perfectly nice- if not a little melancholy- musician. However, Bobby disregards his friendship and the hospitality of his friends, to help out Will, who calls him Dad, but also seems to flirt with him. (This relationship is never clarified)
Notably, Bobby’s lie is the catalyst for the entire plot. Without Bobby’s actions, the love triangle would never happen, and Bobby would simply face the end of the world with two new friends. This scenario could have developed into a perfectly fine plot, were the character development prioritized in this hypothetical scenario. Instead, Bobby causes a love triangle in the middle of an apocalypse. Clearly, that decision indicates that the writer hoped to write titillating drama, not a realistic, character driven show set amidst earthquakes and hurricanes in a Northeast city.
Given that I am a millennial living in a city in the northeast, who had been receiving disaster weather updates regarding the safety of my friends and family on, yes, my millennial device, I should have been shaken about my mortality. However, the show lacked that power. It relied on the outside ornamentations and motifs that would excite spectators, but it was empty inside.
Pysanky eggs are beautiful, but they shouldn’t be the model for musicals.