Finding the Burnett Heart
"Finding the Burnett Heart" is one of those plays that quickly grabs on to you and tries to hold on despite your better judgment.
From its television sitcom feel right from the start, playwright Paul Elliot’s funny dialogue gets the plot going in a calculated manner. Despite some obvious flaws, the play succeeds in packing a timely issue into a colorful package that gets neatly resolved by the end of the play.
Sixteen-year old Tyler Burnett (Joel Johnstone) is forced to share his bedroom with his seventy-year old grandfather, James Burnett (James Handy.) The thing is, Tyler is going through some growing pains and his cantankerous new roommate is not making things any easier. Tyler is gay, but he hasn’t come out to anyone but himself. It takes a few jabbing remarks from grandpa to get him to admit he is gay.
Understanding comes only from his father Robert (Jeff L. Williams) whose own brother was gay and living with a partner until a hereditary heart condition ended his life. The family would visit them often, but always kept the truth from their bigoted father, Tyler’s unwelcome roommate.
His mother (Colleen McGrann) as set up is a nurturer who supports her brother-in-law’s homosexuality (she goes to his house to visit regularly) But upon hearing that her own son is gay, she turns on a dime and with a fundamentalist background becomes a caricature of a religious zealot who would rather her son be dead than be gay.
This production boasts an excellent cast and a witty script, though at times it descends into melodrama - especially with McGrann’s character. Included in this are all the coming out clichés that television is so fond of mining for the standard-issue made-for-television programming.
Despite its shortcomings, director Jeremy Aldridge and playwright Elliott manage to keep this play entertaining throughout. The issue of teens coming out and the rash of bullying that is currently in the media surely prompted the script, however glossed over it may be and however predictable the picture perfect ending.