Theatre review: Burning In – the power of its central story is lost

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There is a powerful story in Natalie Meisner’s Burning In, currently on stage at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.  Unfortunately that power dissipates quickly when the play isn’t dealing with the story of its two central characters.

Burning InMikelle (Dawn Petten) has just returned from another assignment in some unnamed terrorist hotbed.  An award-winning Western journalist, we soon discover that she has not only returned from covering the news, but has also become part of it.  This is not the first time Mikelle has found herself on the otherside of a camera.  As she returns to life back in Vancouver, she is haunted by not only what she has just been through but, with the arrival of the mysterious Rayan (Aslam Husain), she is forced to confront the ghosts of her past.

Through Burning In, playwright Meisner explores the effect western media coverage of the Middle East has not only on the members of the media covering the conflict, but its effect on the people living in the region as well.  It is in this primary exploration where the play is most successful, especially in the moments between Mikelle and Rayan.

A second theme being explored is the impact that war photographs have on their viewers and the possibility that these photographs can re-victimize.  Here Meisner is less successful, with director Natasha Nadir forced to theatrical projections, a breaking down of the fourth wall and a voice-over that, when combined, seemed artificial and unnecessary.

Designer Andreas Kahre’s set worked well enough, although with so much of the action taking place on the fire escape of Mikelle’s apartment, I wondered why it didn’t receive more prominence and brought closer to the audience.  In fact, given the small space that Gateway’s Studio B occupies, I fully expected us to be inside Mikelle’s apartment rather than simply looking in on what was happening.  This would have also helped with some poor sightlines where I completely missed one key element of act one.

Rumour has it that Meisner’s script has been optioned as a movie.  I can see that, but I also have no doubt that any film adaptation will stick to the central relationship between Mikelle and Rayan.  That is where the real power of this story lies.

3 Out of 5 Stars Burning In
Gateway Theatre, Richmond
10 – 19 March 2011

By Natalie Meisner.  Directed by Natasha Nadir.  A Gateway Theatre production.  On stage at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre through March 19, 2011.

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