Much of the buzz surrounding the Broadway revival of “Burn This” has focused on the undeniable chemistry between the play’s central couple, Pale (played by Adam Driver) and Anna (Keri Russell) ― as evidenced by the ads that feature the two stars posed in flagrante delicto on a sofa.
So it may surprise modern audiences that Lanford Wilson’s drama, now playing at New York’s Hudson Theatre, is a deft examination of queer identity and a snapshot of an especially vulnerable moment in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement. First staged in 1987, “Burn This” finds the aforementioned lovers seeking the advice of a gay friend, Larry (played in the current run by Brandon Uranowitz). The HIV/AIDS crisis is never mentioned, but its devastation still permeates the show symbolically in that Pale and Anna unite in their grief over the death of another gay man, Robbie, and his boyfriend in a boating accident.
Despite a theatrical résumé that includes such hits as “An American in Paris” and “The Band’s Visit,” Uranowitz says the witty and self-deprecating Larry afforded him something new in his Broadway tenure: the chance to play a dramatic, non-musical character who happens to be gay.
“What I love about the play is that it’s so indicative of a time period,” Uranowitz, who is gay, told HuffPost. “It’s my high school experience in a nutshell — having to develop a strong sense of humor so I could be accepted, liked, appreciated and acknowledged for something other than being different from everybody else. His sense of humor is quirky, sweet, bubbly and bright on the surface, but it’s grounded in something a little bit darker and scarier, because it was developed as a means of survival. That’s something I could relate to.”
As Larry, Uranowitz provides much of the physical comedy in “Burn This,” with scene-stealing moments that find him fumbling with packed luggage, puffing nervously on cigarettes and appearing in nothing but a pair of white briefs. Playing opposite Hollywood heavyweights Driver and Russell, the actor easily holds his own — which is why it’s no surprise he’s earned his third Tony Award nomination, as well as a Drama Desk nod, for the role.
“My goal, my mission in playing Larry was to dig past the comic relief aspect and really find his humanity, his truth,” the New Jersey native, 32, said. “It’s the most free I’ve ever felt on a Broadway stage. I’ve been around for a little while, and I feel like I’m really introducing myself to the Broadway community.”
As it turns out, playing Larry is a full-circle moment for Uranowitz, who said he mastered his own sense of comedic timing as an outcast ― and sexually frustrated ― teen. In what he’s described as his “almost coming out moment,” he said his parents discovered his penchant for gay porn on the family computer when he was 15, on an afternoon he was choreographing a hip-hop dance at a friend’s house.
The actor opened up about his sexuality to family and friends shortly thereafter. He went on to study drama at New York University but, until now, has found much of his success in musical theater, most recently in the 2016 revival of “Falsettos,” for which he also scored a Tony nomination.
Still, he said he’s leery of critics and audiences who feel that straightforward drama “requires an entirely different skill set” than musical theater.
We have to see that queer people can be productive members of the performing arts. It’s important now that we’re acknowledged and can see ourselves, our experiences. Our stories are worth telling. Brandon Uranowitz
“What’s frustrating to me is that there’s this perception that they’re two different mediums. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same — or it should be the same,” he said. “We’re all on stage telling a story and trying to be as authentic, human and truthful as possible, whether we’re singing or doing a monologue.”
As a gay actor in a gay role, Uranowitz is aware he’s an anomaly ― even on Broadway, where heterosexual actors have recently scored Tony Awards for playing LGBTQ characters.
Still, he’s hopeful his success helps set a new precedent for up-and-coming queer performers who hope to achieve success in theater and television.
“I didn’t have that reference point or that role model as a kid,” he said. “We have to see that queer people can be productive members of the performing arts. It’s important now that we’re acknowledged and can see ourselves, our experiences. Our stories are worth telling.”