Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: A Lifetime Burning

Christina Kirk as Tess and Jennifer Westfeldt
as Emma. Photo by James Leynse.

The Embers of Shared Past Smolder in this Study of Siblings
By Lauren Yarger
The same sense of “family” that gives comfort and belonging can morph suddenly into a base for pain and turning sisters into outcasts in playwright Cusi Cram's sibling study A Lifetime Burning playing Off-Broadway at Primary Stages.

Emma (Jennifer Westfeldt) has just published a book of memoires and her sister, Tess (Christina Kirk), is not exactly happy for her. The uptight divorcing mother of twins isn’t just a little jealous of the success awaiting her free-spirited, unreliable sister who has gone off her bipolar meds. She’s livid because Emma has fabricated a different life, including giving the family some “Inca” blood that doesn’t sit well with Tess, who knows their Irish roots all too well. The fictionalized memories are Emma’s way of giving a voice to the at-risk South American students she tutors and who can’t speak for themselves, the author argues. Journalist Tess disagrees and wants her sister to tell the truth.

A lot of drinking and bickering laced with tight, spit-fire repartee and clever turns of phrase from Cram, which keep the dialogue from becoming just a bunch of hurled insults and reminiscent of the last bad family gathering you attended, ensue, although some of the lines are delivered just a tad too quickly and lose full effect.

“I want an escape hatch from the nightmare of being related to you,” yells Tess, who has always resented the extra money Emma inherited from their father (he loved you more…) which allows her to live without a “real job” and to volunteer as a tutor. Emma tells Tess to stop being “buzzkill” referring to Tess’ bringing her down despite her attempts to remain high through constant alcohol consumption.

When Emma’s publisher, the suave and Chanel-coutured Lydia Freemantle (Isabel Keating, costumed by Theresa Squire)arrives, the conflict intensifies. Through flashbacks, nicely staged by director Pam MacKinnon, assisted by focused lighting by David Weiner, we learn about Emma’s romantic liaison with one of her young students, Alejandro (Raul Castillo), and the miscarriage that results. Alejandro is out of Emma’s life and Tess doesn’t want to go home, where her soon-to-be ex and her kids, who dislike her so much they have poisoned her dog, await. In the end, both alone, they find strength in their familial bond.

Keating stands out as the publisher who strokes, then discards Emma, all in a day’s work, looking out only for her own interests and profit. Also noteworthy, is the upscale apartment with designer furniture by Kris Stone.

A Lifetime Burning runs through Sept. 5 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th Street, NYC. For tickets, call 212.279.4200.

Christians might also like to know:• God’s name taken in vain
• Language
• Sexually suggestive dialogue and action
• Sex outside of marriage

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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