If you watched on Thursday evening at the 8:30 show, you were in for a very special treat watching writer/director Billy Ray Brewton perform two roles he magnified with his inherent understanding of these very characters he has written. Ben Hethcoat is consistently talented in everything he has done and does not disappoint here. Jessica DeShaw has that effortless “it” quality that cannot be explained—perhaps it is her grasp of the deep and penetrating heartbreak Chris Burden’s wife was made to endure, or maybe some people just have “it” and those of us who don’t simply look on in awe. Brennan Murray’s adeptness for physical comedy is exceptional, it is very much a lost art in a comedy market that has become overly-saturated with socio-political commentary serving as humor without critique, and I hope to see more of it and him.
What I didn't like
My overall impression
I’ve come across the belief in my time as a writer that in order to understand a piece of work that can be considered esoteric—in this case, an artist most famous for a striking light installation, but not necessarily by name or his extended works—that one must first be familiar with it in advance. As someone who can readily admit that “Urban Light” was my only frame of reference walking into this play, I can confirm that this philosophy is both ill-advised and incorrect as “A Beast/A Burden” proves it flat-out wrong: good writing is quite simply, good writing. You don’t need to have school-aged children to relate to “God of Carnage”, you don’t need to be young and black to feel the injustice in “Pass Over”, and you don’t need to know who Chris Burden is before you go see this play—because it impresses not only in the accessibility of the artist’s story to an otherwise unknowledgeable audience member such as myself, but it further impresses in that it takes that audience member, deeply engrosses them, and convinces them it’s a better idea to lose sleep in favor of going down a Google search deep dive in order to know more about an individual you knew nothing about a mere four hours ago.
To those who knew of Chris Burden prior, AB/AB explores three of his most notable and notorious performance pieces, the pieces itself brilliantly utilized as a framework to set up each of the play’s three acts and exploring the complexities of Burden’s own complicated inner workings. Against the backdrop of “Prelude 220, 110…”, a performance piece whereby Burden risks the potential for electrocution and confronts the fragility of life, we are introduced to Burden at HIS most fragile: pinned down with copper restraints, near-naked and immobilized to the ground, juxtaposed against the company of those that would matter most in his life—a wife, a best friend. His vulnerability not in his physical shackles, but in the potency at which we witness the sanctity of these relationships for Burden—for what exposes our fragility more than being in the presence of those that we hold most dear?
In the final act of “A Beast/A Burden”, Burden begs this question of his audience: “What IS art?” Well, my personal feeling on art is this: it is a creation where the creator simultaneously makes you both marvel and tremble at your own humanity. It is in our ability to both love and commit to someone above all others, and yet realizing they are capable of completely tearing us down in inconceivable betrayal without apology. It is how we are relentlessly compelled to do that which burns inside of us—write, draw, create—without reason or engagement, and yet question if any of it really matters at the end of the day. It is coming to the realization that regardless of the critics, the sycophants, the admirers, the burgeoning public cavalcade of those who would have their opinions of you—that ultimately, as the saying goes, the only opinion that matters is the one you hold of yourself—and there may be nothing more terrifying than that. “A Beast/A Burden” does exactly this and therefore, by definition, is art.