Burn is an unfortunate example of what happens when good plays happen in bad venues. At the first performance it seemed that everything that could go wrong did. The sound system experienced technical problems so severe that the audience was prompted to applaud the tech team for being able to fix them at all, let alone in a timely manner. The show started 30 minutes late, the air-conditioner was not working properly, and the theater was so hot that half the audience members were fanning themselves with playbills. "Live theater, folks," a member of the production staff said, apologetically.
But while other productions would succumb to these obstacles, Creighton James's Burn transcends them. James is responsible for a former Fringe hit, Feud: Fire on the Mountain, seen in 2005. Burn is proof that lightning can strike twice at this festival.
James likes to create visual experiences for his audiences that summon up the sights and sounds of the period he is depicting. Set designer Quinn Stone sees this vision through, establishing a thoroughly eerie atmosphere onstage. We see the interior of a sparsely furnished, dimly lit old country cabin from before the Civil War. The cabin has an old, rustic feel, with smoky, spooky fog wafting through its walls, perfect for the opening of a chilling ghost story.
Fast-forward to the present day. A group of teenage tourists have set out to investigate the truth behind the ghost that supposedly haunts the land this cabin was built on. They are startled by a mysterious Man (Don Guillory), who has suddenly appeared to tell the tale. While the tourists observe the action from the wings, we are taken into the lives of a troubled Appalachian family struggling to make ends meet. One of them will become this infamous ghost, but which one is anyone's guess. There are several red herring characters, but only one with a story line truly horrific enough to become an eternally unsettled spirit.
The play is strong and entrancing, but with the heavily accented dialogue and the facial subtleties of the mute main character, Cady (Amy Hattemer), you have to work hard to overcome the poor visibility in certain parts of the theater. There were many swaying heads jockeying for better views, and frustrating moments where something would happen onstage to cause the right half of the audience to gasp, "Oh my God!" and the left half to frantically whisper, "What happened?"
But with strong acting, beautiful visuals, and haunting music that foreshadows the most unsettling moments, Burn is a tight, terrifying story that is worth craning your neck for.
Note: This production is part of the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival.