by Cusi Cram
Directed by Pam McKinnon
a production of Primary Stages
at 59E59th

Reviewed by David Spencer

If I’ve sat through a duller play in the last several seasons than Cusi Cram’s A Lifetime Burning, the Summer offering from Primary Stages at 59E59, I must be blocking it so as not to risk reliving the experience. Taking her cue from a real-life scandal, Ms. Cram posits that the author of an upcoming autobiography Jennifer Westfeldt), that details an exotic and provocative cross-cultural odyssey, has in fact made it all up, to the consternation of his sister, who has discovered the ruse (Christina Kirk).

               There are so many big issues something like this touches upon—remember Clifford Irving faking Howard Hughes’ autobiography?—that the potential for a rousing drama about journalistic ethics vs. personal expression, or maybe just truth vs., fantasy vs. responsibility, that it seems impossible not to tell a “hot” story; but Ms. Cram has managed the impossible indeed, in what emerges as a tiresome domestic debate between the sisters, on a kitchen-and-living room set. Emma, the fraudulent author, suffers from manic depression and can be vexing when off her meds, remaining mostly impervious to criticism, her justifications buttressed by vodka refills; this only amps up the irritation of Tess—trying to navigate marital-offspring discord that has torn her family apart—and her response is to yell more. Emma’s publisher (Isabel Keating) shows up, as well as her too-young Hispanic ex-lover (Raùl Castillo) in flashbacks, but even these scenes fail to be compelling. It’s hard to assess Pam McKinnon’s direction, save that on aggregate it seems commensurately nondescript, if competent.

               An idea for dramatization is only as good as its treatment, and the best way I can describe the shortfall between Ms. Cram’s notion and its delivery is suggesting you imagine Amadeus being set in Salieri’s living room as nothing but an argument between him and Mozart about the former’s mediocrity vs. the latter’s bad manners, with breaks for coffee and pastry.

               Only less interesting. Sort of like A Lifetime Warmed Over

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