Is it real or is it Memorex? It’s hard to tell with Thomas Bradshaw’s awkward “Burning” at Theatre Row. Telling two seemingly unrelated stories (until an unremarkable revelation proves otherwise), “Burning” jerks between straightforward drama and cartoonish exaggeration in each.
After his mother — with whom he used to share cocaine — dies, 14-year-old Chris (Evan Johnson) is “adopted” by Simon (Danny Mastrogiorgio) and Jack (Andrew Garman). Jack runs the drama program at a high school, which accepts Chris despite a dreadful audition. Chris acts as sex toy and butler for the gay couple until he runs off with Donald (Adam Trese), a writer whose play about a 6-year-old Cambodian prostitute is produced by Simon. It sounds laughable, in a macabre sort of way, but there aren’t many laughs.
Meanwhile, Peter (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is an African-American artist with a white wife (Larisa Polonsky). His work is black-themed, but he scrupulously keeps his race secret. He goes to Germany for a gallery show where he meets a neo-Nazi assistant curator (Drew Hildebrand) and a black prostitute (Barrett Doss) to whom he wants to give 20,000 euros.
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“Burning” has a penchant for naked bodies copulating onstage and a Playbill cover photo of a black derriere. Perhaps intended to shock, it instead leaves you numb. No amount of simulated sex can breathe life into a play that doesn’t know, or at least doesn’t care to share, what it is.