by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
The Malibu Playhouse opened its 2013-2014 season with a tour de force performance of The Dream of the Burning Boy, a West Coast premiere.
A previous 2011 Off-Broadway Roundabout Theatre Underground production, nominated for a Drama League Award and an Outer Critics Circle for John Gassner Award for a New American Play, The Dream written by David West Read, is brilliantly directed by Edward Edwards and stars Broadway veteran Jeffrey Hayenga and Tyler Ritter, youngest son of the late John Ritter.
What begins as a relatively quiet story, (that we are led to believe is) about Dane, a high school student, who dies unexpectedly from a brain aneurism following a meeting with his English teacher, Larry, ends in an entirely surprising, exculpating triumph supported by a an ever intensifying burn throughout this drama.
Anyone who reads my reviews knows that it is not often that I will give an entirely unblemished recollection of any performance. This production, however, is so far and above anything I’ve seen in recent years, that I can only express how thoroughly perfect it was right from the start.
This very much in the present story is so completely centered, patiently leading us down a path of misbegotten and misinterpreted relationships, and how the choices we make in life can lead to missed opportunities. The secrets revealed are brought on by the push pull of Steve (Ritter) a seemingly nonchalant former student and now school guidance councelor ever edging, like it or not, into Larry’s conscience, as well as Larry’s disturbing dreams, the relationships with the only three students who choose to attend English class during the mourning period and finally the out of left field confessions by all of the characters.
Mr. Hayenga is the jewel of this production. As Larry, the teacher, he is masterful; his emotional nuance so resonant, so meticulous in the way that only a true craftsman can project. His simplicity is powerful and heart-wrenching to the core, so much so, that I had trouble choking back by own emotion, as I watched him do the same on stage.
Every character is spot on. Every detail addressed. Every moment filled with breath and intensity. Most of all, what ultimately lands is the pain experienced by Larry who finally opens himself up to the opportunity offered by Steve’s persistence leading to a chance at a surrogate son relationship and bringing the story full circle. The Dream of the Burning Boy is suffused in hard, beautiful, angry, hopeful sorrow. And it is gorgeous.
A staggering performance by Mr. Hayenga, supported by an exceptional cast.
A Must See!
Running time: 80 minutes.
Suitable for ages 15 and up.