I adopted the handle "BurnThis" as soon as I ventured into cyberspace and realized I had to have a name that was anonymous yet meaningful. I'm no arsonist and, though I'm passionate about poker, the phrase did not come from the 'burn" cards. No, Burn This is an homage to my favorite playwright, Lanford Wilson.
Lanford Wilson is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer of such plays as Talley's Folly, Fifth of July, Hot L Baltimore and Balm in Gilead. I first was exposed to his plays during a high school production of Rimers of Eldritch (as one of my readers should be intimately aware). There was an immediacy and passion in his writing that spoke to my teen self and continued to move me as I proceed through young adulthood.
Wilson writes about real things, love and loss, families and friends, trust and betrayal. But he does so with realistic humor as well as pathos. In his sixteenth play, which debuted in 1986, he dealt with the aftermath of a young man's suicide on his friends and family. The title of the play, Burn This, comes from a line by one of the characters, Burton, a screenwriter, who says, "Make it personal, tell the truth, and then write "Burn this" on it." It was later described, by NY Times reviewer Alvin Klein, as the idea that "as soon as a writer puts his most private feelings on paper, he must destroy the evidence at once. That would be the self-preserving thing to do."
I related to that idea. The need to put things down, to bare my soul, and yet to immediately wipe away any evidence. The feelings need to be expressed, but they are too real, too raw to be shared or admitted it. For whatever reason, writers need to write. They -- may I be so bold as to say we? -- need to articulate our feelings with words on a page. Feeling them or saying them are not enough, there is something necessary about the tactile experience of putting it down in some physical form and about the visual experience of seeing the words in front of us. But then the feeling comes over you, as Michael Stipe once sang, "Oh, no, I've said too much." So you're tempted to light a match and destroy the evidence.
Wilson expressed his deepest feelings in writing and had the courage not to destroy it but, instead, share it with the world in some 22 plays. He addressed issues of real depth and meaning and his plays are as significant and timely now as they were when he originally wrote them. With the recent media attention on gay bullying and suicides, a play like the semi-autobiographical Lemon Sky could help turn the spotlight on these issues. In it, the main character is a high school graduate coming to terms with how his coming out of the closet affects his family, most notably his hostile, resentful father.
It may be ironic that while my favorite author is hyper-capitalist Ayn Rand, my favorite playwright is the far to the left Lanford Wilson. But, I am drawn to the feelings of alienation and disillusionment that his characters explore and the significant role of family in their struggles. He may trumpet the misfits and lower classes, but he still imbues them with humanity and grace and purpose. He has written during a period of great change for America and his plays can help us navigate through those rough waters. I feel better for having read his works and seen his plays and I hope they continue to influence and educate further generations.
Now that I've said all this...