Front Row Toad Reviews:

A Masterclass In Comic Timing,
"The Burdens" Is A Triumph

By Phil Lederer
Is calling someone a cunt worse than saying that you wish they’d die?

I didn’t leave Urbanite Theatre’s production of The Burdens with a definitive answer, but it was a new and curious question to consider—and one I plan on reviving come Christmas dinner.

Because if I did learn anything from the show, it’s that conversation matters.

Written by Matt Schatz and directed by Urbanite’s own Brendan Ragan, the story centers on Jane and Mordy Berman, a brother and sister divided by age, geography, lifestyle and probably even general approach to hygiene, but united in the face of an age-old problem:

Grandpa is old as fuck, mean as hell, and refuses to die.

But what begins as comedy and commiseration soon starts to look a lot like conspiracy, as the siblings conjure schemes to protect their dear old mother.

The resulting “action” plays out largely as a series of performed text messages, with the characters siloed in their little worlds and connected only through their disembodied digital chatter. But what could easily be seen as an obstacle or hurdle for the production—“How do we sell a play that’s two people texting each other for an hour?”—is, of course, The Burdens greatest asset and what sets the operation apart from the hundreds of other Odd-Couple-Siblings-With-Family-Issues scripts.

As Jane Berman, Morgan Lavenstein is pitch-perfect, playing the aggressive and successful older sister in all the right ways—by turns fearsome and vulnerable and somehow making a pantsuit look as comfy as PJs. And as younger brother Mordy, Jacob Fallon shines in a multifaceted performance that carries much of the show’s physicality and injects just the right energy to keep the darkly comic from transmogrifying into the plain old morbid.

But it’s together that both Lavenstein and Fallon truly shine.

Under Ragan’s direction, the pair play off each other with all the rapid-fire rapport of true siblings. Their conversation dips and dives and splits off into tangents and fractures and comes together again at breakneck pace that leaves the audience with no choice but to take it all in like a rabble of flabbergasted eavesdroppers. It's a testament both to their impeccable comic timing and the power of relentless rehearsal over the course of five weeks.

And this is where Schatz’ genius shines through as well, and the choice to frame the story through text messages shows its true brilliance, mining the absurdities and ambiguities of conversation through a technology that instantly connects its participants while distancing them at the same time. And never has a typo seemed more consequential.

It’s the perfect Urbanite play—and not just because it’s a darkly comic tale about the potential benefits of bumping off geriatric relatives—but because, above all, it’s a production that emphasizes character and language over spectacle and shock, prizes timing and performance over easy laughs and cheap shots, and appreciates the simple joy of sitting in the dark and seeing what can be done with just a few storytellers and a stage.

Currently onstage at Urbanite Theatre, The Burdens runs through December 4.
Pictured: Morgan Lavenstein and Jacob Fallon star in The Burdens at Urbanite Theater. Photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox.