“The Art of Burning”

Hartford Stage

Hartford Stage is currently presenting the world premiere play, “The Art of Burning,” by Kate Snodgrass, which is an audacious, original, and slightly unhinged black comedy.  Focusing on the divorce of the leading characters Patricia and Jason, this play jumps back and forth in time, in a series of short scenes, and it is, by turns, laugh-out-loud funny and also slightly creepy.  Taking inspiration from the Greek tragedy, “Medea,” Snodgrass follows the outlines of the plot of “Medea,” but goes off merrily in several outrageous directions. 

The entire cast is stellar and the playwright has written uniformly strong roles for all of the actors.  Director Melia Bensussen keeps the show running at a relatively brisk pace and the show’s ninety minute running time (without an intermission) goes by very quickly.  “The Art of Burning” at Hartford Stage is one singular experience and it is gripping from beginning to end.

On Luciana Stecconi’s sleek, modern set, the early scenes focus on the married couple, Patricia and Jason, who are going through divorce proceedings.  They have a teenage daughter, Beth, and the main struggle in the divorce is who will get custody of the child.  Adrianne Krstansky portrays Patricia and she gives a startling performance where one truly wonders exactly what she says is true and what is made up.  If this character sometimes brings to mind Kathy Bates in the film “Misery,” Patricia is an extremely well-rounded character and one hangs on her every word.  Krstansky is riveting in the role and she can be extremely funny and, at times, more than a bit scary.

The rest of the characters are similarly interesting.  As Jason, Rom Barkhordar is sympathetic and gives a fine performance, as he deals both with the divorce proceedings and his mistress, Katya (the lovely Vivia Font), who brings her own set of idiosyncrasies to the play.  As Jason and Patricia’s daughter, Beth, Clio Contogenis is super and one can really see her struggling with the divorce and the pains of adolescence.  The intriguing Michael Kaye plays Mark, a friend of Jason’s, who is the mediator in the divorce.  To further spice up the plot of the show, Mark is married to Charlene, portrayed humorously by Laura Latreille, who happens to be very good friends with Patricia.  Without giving too much away, Mark and Charlene are dealing with their own set of marital problems.

What’s particularly wonderful about “The Art of Burning” is that it maintains an unsettling, unique tone that is consistently surprising.  It is fascinating to see how the playwright weaves the plot of “Medea” into the very fabric of her play.  In addition to working well with the actors, director Melia Bensussen is perfectly in tune with her design team, who provide the sleek, ideal setting for this show.  In addition to the expert set design, the costumes (designed excellently by Kara Harmon) help shape each of the characters and Aja M. Jackson’s lighting is precise and incisive.  Jane Shaw is responsible for both the fine sound design and the original music, which adds a great deal to each scene.

“The Art of Burning” is remarkably confident for a world premiere play and the show is truly effective and continually unpredictable.  One hopes that this play will have a life beyond Hartford Stage, but you will still want to catch “The Art of Burning” in its current staging to see what playwright Kate Snodgrass and company have created in this striking, offbeat show.  This is also a work that is almost certainly going to inspire conversations long after the production has ended.

“The Art of Burning” runs through March 26, 2023 at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.hartfordstage.org.

Photo (L-R): Adrianne Krstansky, Michael Kaye, and Rom Barkhordar

Photo by T. Charles Erickson


One thought on ““The Art of Burning” at Hartford Stage by Zander Opper

  1. Hi Zander,

     Your review is wonderful! I read it on Facebook this afternoon. Right now I am in bed. Earl is curled up next to me sleeping. 💤🐈‍⬛ I love you and I will see you tomorrow.
                                         Love, mom💙

    Sent from my iPad

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