Adam Driver Brings A Hurricane To Broadway's 'Burn This'

Download Audio
Adam Driver in "Burn This." (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Adam Driver in "Burn This." (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

There's a storm brewing on Broadway, and it's replaying itself night after night at the Hudson Theatre.

The show is a revival of Lanford Wilson's 1987 play "Burn This" — a story that mines the depth of grief, and explores what happens to people and relationships when loss suddenly throws them together.

The hurricane is Adam Driver, who plays Pale — the older brother of a gay dancer who has died in a boating accident, a brother Pale barely knew.

The show unfolds after Pale arrives at his brother Robbie's apartment to gather his belongings from Robbie’s roommate and dance partner Anna, played by Keri Russell.

The two, Pale and Anna, perform their own intense, passionate and dangerous dance as they come to terms with their loss.

Russell comes to the show after playing Elizabeth on the wildly successful "The Americans." Driver, who played Kylo Ren in Star Wars, was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Detective "Flip" Zimmerman in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman." He's been nominated for a Tony Award for his explosive performance in “Burn This.”

Keri Russell and Adam Driver in "Burn This." (Photo by Danielle Levitt)
Keri Russell and Adam Driver in "Burn This." (Photo by Danielle Levitt)

Driver’s entrance has been described as one of the "best" entrances on Broadway — he storms into the apartment Robbie shared with Anna in full rage, furious at a driver on the street below and angry that Anna hasn't opened the door quickly enough. Driver says he builds that emotion differently every night.

"I've had weeks where you think about all the stuff that happens leading up to him going there, … and sometimes I'm very calm backstage, I'm not really thinking of an end result,” he says. "I let the precipice of the door be the launching pad for it. I'm still figuring it out."

He adds that the fluidity of his performance is helped along by loose blocking of that scene. He knows the general area where he has to be, but is able to change and evolve throughout the show's run.

He says he initially loved the piece as a play about grief — about losing loved ones and the creativity they brought into the world. It’s also about people left behind, who don’t have the words to express that grief.

But he says it was only a few weeks ago — when listening to co-star Keri Russell as Anna, expressing her frustration about not having the opportunity to participate in grieving over Robbie — that he realized that his character was expressing the same anger.

"He's talking about somebody that's outside, but it has nothing to do with that. It's kind of immaterial. It's all the things that he can't say that he's looking for anything to take it out on," Driver says.

Actors John Malkovich and Edward Norton preceded Driver in the role of Pale, but Driver says he didn't see those performances.

He plays Pale as he saw it on the page: as a "larger-than-life character" who is "trying to wrestle with death in front of someone else."

He explains Pale's emotional battle as "a bird that is caught inside and is looking for a way out. Looking for any kind of answer."

And despite Pale's gruff, menacing exterior, this interpretation of the character also shows vulnerability, and in some ways, beauty. He explains what Pale could have been.

"He talked about being a composer," Driver says. "He wrote these huge themes. He could have done it. But the one person in his family who did was his brother."

When it comes to the inspirations for his character, he says it changes every performance.

"I don't try to come in knowing what the right answer is," he says.

He says that at the end of the run of a show, the last performance is just a little clearer and a little more relaxed.

"I wish we could go back to the very beginning and do it all over again," he says. "It's like that thing where you're pushing for perfection every night knowing that you'll never find it."

He says thinking of their performance as an opera, with jazz and blues, helped everything come together on stage. When it comes to the four-person cast, rounded out by Brandon Uranowitz as Anna's wise-cracking roommate and David Furr as Anna's boyfriend, "everyone has their part to play, every instrument," Driver says.

Off stage, Driver and his wife Joanne Tucker co-founded the Arts in the Armed Forces charity which brings high-quality arts programming to active service members, veterans and their families. He's said that "Burn This" is the type of "urgent" show he likes to bring to the organization.

On May 29, Driver's charity will treat 50 veterans and active duty military to a free performance of "Burn This."

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this story for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna.

This segment aired on May 21, 2019.


Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.


Karyn Miller-Medzon Senior Producer, Here & Now
Karyn Miller-Medzon is a senior producer for Here & Now.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live