By Karen Isaacs
First plays are often loaded with ideas – everything the playwright is wanting to say about a subject or a variety of subjects. They often need draconian editing.
Such is the case with the world premier play Burning Desire by actor Lou Diamond Phillips now at Seven Angles Theater in Waterbury through March 13.
Some delightful kernels of truth and amusement exist in the work, but they are surrounded by way too much excess.
Take for example the opening. Phillips – who is attractive, charming and can act – comes out on stage and proceeds to deliver a long – it seemed like 10 minute – monologue which is part theological and part comedy. He is not only attempting to set the stage but give us his character’s view of the world.
Who is his character? The Devil, Satan, Lucifer or whatever more slang term you want to use. He has a plan. He wants the soul of a woman and plans to get it by offering her true love.
So we move into a modern romantic comedy: Evan, an attractive woman apparently in her late 20s or 30s and Andrew an aspiring writer of the same age. Satan arranges their meeting at a grocery store produce counter and then coaches them through the initial encounter. Andrew is awkward and tongue-tied and makes an inappropriate joke. Both are immediately smitten but like so many such encounters it could become a lost opportunity without some luck. Satan provides the “luck.”
The romance progresses. A dinner in an expensive restaurant, Evan selected it and Andrew is appalled at the prices which will have him eating saltines and peanut butter for the rest of month, is followed by a steamy encounter in Evan’s apartment.
Act two opens a month later; Andrew is practically living there, but so far has not said “I Love You”. Evan suggests he move in but he doesn’t immediately jump at the offer.
Having helped the two fall in love, Satan is not intent on causing problems in the relationship. He nudges Evan to focus on and to feel upset by Andrew’s hesitancy to move in and to say “I Love You.’ Soon Evan is discussing the relationship with her mother (Phillips) and Andrew is talking to his friend (also Phillips) in the park. The friend is concerned that Andrew is being “bossed around” by Evan. From there it is downhill. Andrew receives a steamy message from an old girlfriend and is tempted. When he leaves to see Evan, Satan makes the scene look incriminating as Evan shows up to “surprise“ Andrew. You can guess what happens.
The ending takes place in Limbo, where Satan offers to help them get back together and lead a happy and long life. But the offer comes with a price. Evan must say that she’d “give her soul” for it. I won’t reveal the absolute finality; there should be some suspense as to whether Satan wins.
Let’s look at the acting. The three principals, Phillips, Tara Franklin as Evan and Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Andrew are all fine. As I said, Phillips has both charm and skill. He plays the multiple characters – Evan’s mother, Andrew’s friend and the restaurant waiter –with skill, giving each unique gestures, voices and personalities. He also interacts with the audience deftly. Franklin and Gilreath are both attractive performers who imbue their characters with legitimate doubts and emotions.
Also in the cast are two women (Sophie Lee Morris and Jackie Aiken) who play Satan’s “minions” but also dance. I’m not sure why the dancing is added to their occasional appearances while often they bring on or off scenery.
If Burning Desire were cut to 90 minutes and some of the long monologues were omitted, this could be a charming romantic comedy with a twist.
It is at The Seven Angels Theater, 1 Plank Rd, Waterbury through Sunday,, March 13. For tickets contact 203-757-4676 or visit sevenangelstheatre.org.