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Danny (Theo Stockman) and Karen (Claire van der Boom) are in for a long night in David Rabe’s AN EARLY HISTORY OF FIRE (photo by Monique Carboni)

The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Monday - Saturday through May 26, $61.25

Despite all the talk of burning hilltops and yearning young passion, award-winning playwright David Rabe’s An Early History of Fire never quite ignites at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. Lightning doesn’t strike twice for the New Group, which staged a popular revival of Rabe’s Tony-nominated Hurlyburly in 2005, featuring the all-star cast of Bobby Cannavale, Josh Hamilton, Ethan Hawke, Parker Posey, and Wallace Shawn. Rabe, who has penned such other works as Sticks and Bones, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, and In the Boom Boom Room, goes back to 1962 in his first new play since 2001’s The Dog Problem, but it turns out to be a rather mundane time-capsule drama. Theo Stockman stars as Danny, a serious young man living with his immigrant father, Emil (Gordon Clapp), in a working-class town in Middle America. When Danny begins dating Karen (Claire van der Boom), the daughter of a wealthy family in a nearby ritzy neighborhood, his best friend, Terry (Jonny Orsini), is insulted, claiming that Danny is turning his back on his roots. But Danny is enlightened by Karen’s discussions of literature and politics, although he starts finding out a lot more about her on one very long night. An Early History of Fire is a coming-of-age drama that never comes of age itself, instead emerging flat and old-fashioned. When Karen waxes poetic about Salinger and Kerouac, or when the play comes to an uncomfortable stop as everyone pauses to listen to an Elvis Presley song on the hi-fi, it feels like Rabe is forcing his own personal heroes into the story, resulting in moments that are unnatural and inorganic. An Early History of Fire does have the air of autobiography about it ― Rabe was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, in a working-class family, and he would have been twenty-two in 1962 ― but it has trouble escaping its own insecurities, much as Danny has trouble escaping his.

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