The day that forever changed Brandon Burk’s life ended another’s.
And every day since that fateful one, Burk has been wrestling with the knowledge that “I’ve taken a life … and I can never pay it back. But I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying.”
That’s the tag line for “Invention,” Burk’s autobiographical one-man show, which made its New York City debut Friday and Saturday at the New Light Theatre Project — to be followed, he hopes, by future productions. Including one in Las Vegas, which “I still think of as a home.”
Burk’s theatrical career has taken him from Las Vegas (where he earned a master’s degree from UNLV, acted in local productions and served as the Onyx Theatre’s artistic director) to Cedar City, Utah, where he’s played in Utah Shakespeare Festival productions from “Amadeus” to “Guys and Dolls.”
Yet for Burk, 36, all roads lead back to the night in 2007 when, after performing in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” Burk followed hours of drinking by getting behind the wheel — and triggering a wrong-way crash that killed Iraq War veteran Stephen Tomlin. On his first day home.
You might think someone who spent 5½ years in prison (and returned following a parole violation, for having a prohibited telecommunications device: an iPad his brother gave him) would be reluctant to revisit the experience. But “it’s important for me to relive it sometimes,” Burk says.
Burk co-wrote “Invention” with Ed Simpson, his mentor during his undergraduate days at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Simpson now chairs the theater department at North Carolina’s High Point University, where the two developed the play.
In creating the solo show, “it’s important it didn’t become an after-school special with a ‘don’t drink and drive’ message,” Burk adds. Beyond that, there’s a danger in writing an autobiographical work, “to not always see myself as the hero, the good guy.”
To that end, at one point the play features the sound of a cell door closing, which “really does shake me,” Burk acknowledges. And “as though I weren’t out to torture myself enough, I wear some of my actual prison clothes.”
Burk’s offstage collaborators also have UNLV ties, including director Sarah Norris (New Light’s founding artistic director), executive producer Heather Anne Chamberlain and composer Christopher Lash (music director and conductor for “Baz”).
Now that “Invention” has made its New York debut, “the goal is to keep working on this,” Burk says. “My job’s not over. There’s no way for me to give back what I’ve taken,” but “by constantly reminding myself of the situation, I stay on it.”