48 I CHRONICLESnIllinois to develop multilayered conflicts,nincluding a clash between thenscientific community and commercialnenterprise (archaeology versus a touristnretreat). But the beauty of this workn(which Clive Barnes called “one of thenmost complex and rewarding of allnWilson’s plays”) is how the charactersnmirror their scientific and social discoveries.nThe most well-received revival,nhowever, was the 1984 comeback ofnSerenading Louie (another 1970 opus)nthat focused on the disintegrating marriagesnof two suburban couples.nIn the retrospective reactions tonthese works we can most clearly detectnthe critical ambivalence toward Wilsonnat work. In response to the 1985nrevival oiLemon Sky, Frank Rich feltncompelled to undermine Wilson asnwell as his own perceptions. Afternsaying that Lemon Sky “reminds usnthat Mr. Wilson is our primary heir tonTennessee Williams,” Rich continued,n”If there’s one lapse that preventsnLemon Sky from joining Mr. Wilson’snmajor plays, it’s that the skeletons innthe family closet prove to be melodramaticnsecrets that diminish rather thannfulfill the mysteries preceding theirnunveiling.” John Simon, on the othernhand, called the play “an interestingnfailure” and its revival “a captivatingni,’^*”n/••vnnear-miss.nMany of Wilson’s interests can bendiscerned in his titles alone. As ansymbol, 5th of July reveals Wilson’snrecurring interest in exploring America’sncollapse of spirit and change ofnheart before and since the Bicentennial.nWith its biblical reference. Balm innGilead (which premiered for one weeknonly in 1965 and remained dormantnuntil Steppenwolf’s revival in 1984)nrefers to what a number of critics havencited as Wilson’s characteristic “generosity”nof spirit or “democratic” attitudentowards all of his characters.nThough Wilson writes in a contemporarynidiom and captures the essencenof a confused age that lacks commitmentnfor conviction, a number of hisnworks ultimately evince a respect forntradition. Wilson’s most consistentnconcern is expressed as the clash betweennpast and present. The past isnphysically symbolized by the condemnednhotel in The Hot I Baltimore,nand by the Talley house in 5th of July,nwhich is being sold. Setting “ThenScene” in his stage notes for the formernplay, Wilson wrote: “The HotelnBaltimore, built in the late nineteenthncentury, remodeled during the ArtnDeco last stand of the railroads, is anfive-story establishment intended to benJoan Allen and John Malkovich in a scene from Burn This, a contemporary dramandealing with the lack of passion in today’s cynical climate.nnnan elegant and restful haven. Its historynhas mirrored the rails’ decline. . . .nThe Hotel Baltimore is scheduled forndemolition. The theater, evanescentnitself, and for all we do perhaps itselfndisappearing here, seems the idealnplace for the representation of thenimpermanence of our architecture.”nWhile the negative reaction to Wilson’snlast new work. Angels Fall, isnjustified, the reception to Burn Thisnhas been as shortsighted as it wasninhospitable. In the characteristic neednto find some fault with any new Wilsonnoffering, the play’s very essence hasnbeen ignored, or worse yet, turnednagainst itselfnAfter a preliminary run in Los Angeles,nfollowed by a for-members-onlynproduction at the Circle Rep in NewnYork and a quasi-tryout in Chicagonprior to opening on Broadway in mid-nOctober, the advance “word” on BurnnThis was nothing less than spectacular.nTony Awards could have been predictednand a Pulitzer acceptance speechnprepared on the basis of the excitementngenerated by Wilson’s first new play innfour years.nBut the critics rushed to declarenBurn This less than the greatest play,nsince the last greatest play was nevernwritten in the first place. Most of thennotices for Burn This discussed thenacting, which is a customary way ofnevading or deferring opinion on thenplay itself Clive Barnes’s review begannwith an apparent rave (“Broadway hasnfinally gotten masterfully into its stridenj sic] with a new American play”) butnended on an ambivalent note (“Take itnnot too seriously, and enjoy”), ditheringnwith any number of inherentlyncontradictory comments in between.nAside from praise for the performers,nsome plot description, and some ambiguouslyndisparaging remarks, EdithnOliver avoids confrontation with thenplay altogether and refuses to commentnon whether or not it works. AndnFrank Rich repeatedly focuses on thenidea of unfulfilled promise: “Althoughnthe payoff … is perilously slight, thenplay initially promises the abundancenone anticipates from Mr. Wilson, asnwise and accomplished a playwright asnwe have”; and later, “Yet the promisednillumination of torrid intimacies andnlarger-than-life passions never quitenemerges either in the text or the performance.”n