Lou Diamond Phillips ignites the stage

True love is pure and good, so what’s the devil, prince of darkness and evil incarnate got to do with it? In Lou Diamond Phillips’ original play “Burning Desire,” the devil has a vested interest in fanning the flames of true love. Lucifer does his best to make a charming couple fall in love while planning carefully, step by step, to get their souls in the end. Specifically, the devil wants the lovely Evan’s soul and he’ll take her love interest Andrew’s soul for good measure.

Evan is a die-hard romantic. She’s such a good person that even Lucifer loves her and longs for her soul. He arranges for Evan and Andrew to meet and fall in love and then he plays his devilish game in attempts at stealing their souls.

Although this play is heavily laced with humor, don’t think this is just a silly romp. This is a strong play with a universal understanding of the way of the heart. It reaches deep into your soul, makes you laugh, cheer, and swoon. If you have ever experienced true love, this play brings it all back clearly and passionately. Lou Diamond Phillps has managed to do what many poets, artists, and musicians have tried in vain to do. He has captured the very essence of true love, dressed it up, put it in the spotlight and let the whole world see it as it is. It burns and it burns bright and hot. And this is not some gushing saccharine valentine of a play, either. It is realistically conceived and conveyed. There are serious adult themes here and at times, the passionate language and subject matter are downright raw. One thing is for certain. Anyone who has ever really been in love will immediately recognize how exactly Phillips has contained it.

The first act is practically the devil’s monologue. Phillips suddenly appears on stage in a puff of a cloud. He walks straight toward the audience, makes eye contact, grabs a firm hold on the theatergoers’ attention and then keeps that attention in his pocket throughout the rest of the show. He smiles and you smile; he dances and you feel his rhythm. He is sexy, smart, and very well groomed and dressed. A gray fitted sharkskin suit, black shirt with a fire-red tie is all this devil needs. There’s no tail, pitchfork, or horns. His magic bag of tricks is his ability to look sophisticated, impish, and/or sexy at a moment’s notice.

Phillips is not only convincing as the devil, but as Evan’s mother and Andrew’s buddy as well. In the second act, when the devil pops up in the bed that was shared by Evan and Andrew, the audience erupted into howls of laughter. It was a spontaneous surprise moment.  Phillips has created a role that any actor would love to step into. He’s an actor’s actor with the fire of a playwright rolled into one.

Mind you he is not alone on stage; Tara Franklin as Evan is simply exquisite and looks as though she was chiseled by hand for this role. Her performance is inspired. So too, Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Andrew does not want to be controlled by Evan, but cannot live without her. Both characters fit perfectly into this modern day Adam and Eve story.

Add to this, two long-legged temptresses who could raise anyone’s temperature to boiling with their skimpy outfits and sensual dance. Sophie Lee Morris and Jackie Aitkin are the perfect hellions to add more heat to a very hot time already. Their dance choreographed by Mic Thompson is exotic kindling material for steamy scenes that never fail to be fully realized, thanks to the spot on insightful direction of Richard Zavaglia.

As for the production, everything works like a charm. Matt Iacozza’s set design is as effective as it is efficient. With a few props, the stage is as vast or as intimate as a scene requires. Matt Guminski’s lighting is mood altering and exact, with every special effect perfected. Matt Martin’s sound design is a punctuation mark in all the right places and Vivianna Lamb’s costumes are downright classic.

This play is going to have a long life. Not only will Phillips be able to step in and out of this whenever he wants, but many other actors will want a chance to play this devilish role. More than likely this show will move to New York. You can see it now at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury at a most affordable price. Don’t wait. This is one of those shows that sells out. It plays through March 13. Box office: 203-757-4676.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association.  She welcomes comments. Contact:jgrochman@gmail.com