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Finding humor in the tragedy of divorce: 'The Art of Burning' at CT’s Hartford Stage

Clio Contogenis (Beth) sits to the right of Adrianne Krstansky (Patricia) in ‘The Art of Burning’ at the Hartford Stage on January 12, 2023.
T Charles Erickson
Hartford Stage
Clio Contogenis (Beth) sits to the right of Adrianne Krstansky (Patricia) in ‘The Art of Burning’ at the Hartford Stage on January 12, 2023.

On the surface, “The Art of Burning” by Kate Snodgrass is about a family dealing with a divorce and bitter custody battle. But other themes are weaved throughout the play—misogyny, sexual abuse, parenting, power, and especially Greek tragedy.

As the play opens, Jason (Rom Barkhordar) and Patricia (Adrianne Krstansky) are finalizing their divorce. The couple have decided to negotiate the terms of their divorce amicably, through a divorce arbitrator and friend, Mark (Michael Kaye). But Patricia comes to the meeting ready to change the terms of the settlement, and instead wants full custody of their teenage daughter Beth (Clio Contogenis).

Patricia experiences a revelation about her circumstances after seeing a performance of the ancient Greek tragedy, “Medea."

“Patricia is on a cliff,” said playwright Kate Snodgrass. ”The play [Medea] was the tipping point. ‘How can I save my daughter? What do I have to do?’ And Medea goes a long way to save her sons,” Snodgrass said with a laugh referring to Medea killing her children. “That's what Patricia wants to do.”

“The play is kind of a growing up for Patricia,” said Hartford Stage artistic director Melia Bensussen, who directed the show. “She is a woman owning her voice, and realizing how you suddenly have these waves of awakening, of being treated as less than.”

But Patricia’s epiphany and newly found confidence makes her soon-to-be ex-husband Jason uneasy. In Euripides' tragedy, Medea exacts revenge on her unfaithful husband Jason by killing their two sons. When Patricia and Jason’s daughter Beth goes missing, Jason fears the worst.

“The Art of Burning” runs through March 26th at Hartford Stage.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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