David West Read's new play, The Dream of the Burning Boy, presented at the Roundabout Underground, explores the repercussions when a star high school student dies. As often happens in dramas, secrets are revealed, emotions are stripped raw, and people grow and change--or don't. However, while the précis may be familiar and even cliché, the specifics are not. Read presents compelling, fully realized characters, and their secrets are both surprising and believable. He also deals with the realities of theatre in interesting ways. For example, having the bulk of the students take advantage of the school's bereavement leave, while the people who are genuinely grief-stricken show up, is a wry way of accounting for the sparsely populated schoolroom. Most strongly affected by the boy's death are his sister, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, a well-meaning, not-quite-as-ineffectual-as-he-looks guidance counselor, and, most importantly, the boy's English teacher, who is the dreamer of the burning boy. After a slightly rocky start, the cast is uniformly strong. Special attention must be paid to the subtle, smart Reed Birney whose complex portrayal makes his character sympathetic without ever downplaying his significant flaws. Well-directed by Evan Cabnet.
(Paid for my ticket--all seats are $20--sat second row behind a man with a big head.)