Nicholas Linnehan

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Critic Reviews of Identity and Erosion:Life on Life's Terms
Erosion

Written by Nicholas A. Linnehan
Directed by Andrew Rothkin
Nicu’s Spoon Theater
38 West 38th Street

 

Review by Christina Ku

 Under the Rainbow: Teisha Bader and Matt
Weaver in Erosion (photo: Phillip Chavira).

 
The danger in using The Wizard of Oz as a literary backdrop is that this oft-used metaphor for trips over the rainbow can become terribly cliché. Fortunately, Erosion, written by Nicholas Linnehan and directed by Andrew Rothkin, avoids such pitfalls and manages to go beyond and further.

 Named after the title of an unrequited-love poem written by Donny, the play’s drug addict protagonist, Erosion takes audience members helter skelter down a yellow brick road of cravings and desires — both emotional and physical — and the illogical logic people use to justify themselves when they’ve fallen in too deep. Donny’s addiction to crack is fueled by his abandonment issues; at first his choices seem laughable, his decisions and reasoning feeble and rash, but as the production progresses, his hunger for love becomes an addiction as palpable as the need for any drug. And addictions, when full fledged and raging, are never rational or sane.

 Matt Weaver is an excellent leading man as the frail but resilient Donny, who is needy and desperate without falling into melodramatic theatrics and clichés. Like Dorothy, Donny stumbles along the best that he can (sporting red Chuck Taylors in place of the ruby slippers), having his heart and wallet used and abused in his quest for love, be it filial, romantic, carnal or agape. Exacerbating his abandonment issues and drug addiction is Donny’s paramour Will (Max Rhyser), a heavy, solid masculine presence with his leather jacket, hairy chest, and combat boots. Unfortunately for Donny, the “straight” Will is willing to love him in his own way, but only rises to the occasion when high. Rhyser is an excellent foil to Weaver and the two believably play off of each other’s vulnerabilities and desires.

 The rest of the talented cast members are as equally vital to Donny’s journey throughout the play’s two acts. While taking on the roles as the fleeting figures in Donny’s life, these six actors — color coded by the rainbow — serve primarily as Donny’s thoughts manifesting as observers and commentators. Taunting, cruel and detached, R, O, Y, G, B and V are the voices in Donny’s pretty head. However, as enabling and encouraging as they are of Donny’s dependence on crack and Will, they are also his guardians and defenders when Donny feels attacked.

 Act one is Donny’s rapid descent into self-loathing, addiction and an eventual suicide attempt. Act two chronicles the shaky beginnings of his recovery — which is never guaranteed. The language in Erosion serves to intensify and twist the sad situation Donny has gotten himself into; when the broken down Serenity Prayer is murmured in bits and pieces, against the narration of Donny’s therapy workbook, it serves only to make recovery seem even more tentative and uncertain. Then again, it’s not like Dorothy was without obstacles on her way to the Emerald City either.

Erosion

Cast
Teisha Bader, Jimmy Brooks, Jr., Joane Cajuste, Joe Fanelli, Gillian Hurst, Diana K. Lee, Max Rhyser, Daniela Francisca Thome, Matt Weaver

Author
Nicholas A. Linnehan

Director
Andrew Rothkin

Sound
Teisha Bader & Andrew Rothkin

Sets
Yveyi Yi

Costumes
Phillip Chavira

Lighting
Casper De la Torre

Stage Manager
Phillip Chavira

Fight Director
Nicholas Santasier

Producer
Identity Productions

nytheatre.com review

Martin Denton · January 15, 2010

Loneliness can be one of the most destructive emotions; Nicholas A. Linnehan's quietly compelling new play Erosion exemplifies this sad fact. It tells the story of a young man named Donny who, after being abandoned by the people closest to him (for a variety of reasons, some of his own making), tries to kill himself. In the hospital where he has been institutionalized, he meets Will, a recovering drug addict with a shady and dangerous past. He falls instantly in love, or decides that he does, notwithstanding Will's mysterious background and his statement that he is straight. Their kinship is based on their being outcasts (Will walks with a limp and calls himself a "cripple," Donny has cerebral palsy) and on their shared favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz (lots of Oz allusions fill the play).

After Donny is released from the hospital, he is visited by Will and their love affair blossoms. But Will is back on crack and says he can't perform sexually with Donny without the drug. Soon Will turns Donny on to the dubious pleasures of his addiction. Erosion follows Donny's journey through two obsessive addictions, to drugs and to sex with Will. His decline is horrific and harrowing, and by the end of the first act he has reached a tragic low point in his life. Act Two of Erosion charts the beginnings of his recovery from addiction.

The play is at its best capturing the irrational desperation that keeps Donny hooked on Will and crack. It's easy to judge somebody's terrible choices, but Erosion explores Donny's emotions with a raw frankness that encourages empathy rather than sensationalism; Linnehan sketches his protagonist with a great deal of compassion and understanding. One of the devices he uses is a six-person chorus who represent Donny's often-warring inner selves. They are named in the program after six of the colors of the rainbow, though I didn't notice that the specific colors represented anything in particular about Donny's psyche, Nonetheless, giving physical voice and form to the thoughts and impulses of this young man in this manner is instructive and interesting.

Andrew Rothkin has directed the play with honesty and simplicity. At the performance I attended, one of the six ensemble members was absent from the cast, and the other five did an outstanding job carrying the show, seamlessly taking on the roles played by the missing actor. The three main roles—Donny, Will, and Emily, Donny's therapist—are played respectively by Matt Weaver, Max Rhyser, and Teisha Bader. All are effective, though Weaver is perhaps too young and well-put-together to entirely convey Donny's circumstances as we come to understand them. Bader provides a constancy to the proceedings that's comforting and helpful. Rhyser makes Will exactly the exciting and apparently malleable object of desire that Donny perceives.

The play, more than two hours long, could probably benefit from some trimming, especially in the long expositional scenes that come at its beginning. And some aspects were a little unclear to me: is Donny actually disabled by his CP, or does he just imagine this in some way? And how is it that he is able to survive without any apparent source of income for such a long time, during his nasty descent into oblivion with Will and the drugs?

Notwithstanding these items, Erosion is an intriguing and generally well-crafted look at a man's addiction and journey toward recovery. Donny's story has resonance for anyone who's struggled for control over his or her own life, whatever the culprit. Linnehan and his collaborators present their tale with conviction and passion, which in turn makes it worthwhile to hear what they have to tell us.

 
QC's Identity Aims to Help Students Find Their Own
John Disogra
Issue date: 5/10/05
 
Playwright and Director Nick Linnehan seeks to enlighten and cultivate free thinkers among the college population. The Queens College grad student attempts to offer students the most important lecture they can attend.

Linnehan's upcoming play, Identity, will run from May 19-22 in King Hall's Little Theater. In it, he tries to show his audience the power of identities and stereotypes.

Linnehan says that one can create an identity based on any aspect of his personality. But identities become dangerous, when the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes and labels creates identities for us that we supposedly must adhere to, thus promoting ignorance.

Identity is Linnehan's second play; his first, The Real Story was produced in 2001 by the Post Theater Company.

With this experience under his belt, Linnehan follows his first play with a more complete work based loosely on his own experience as a gay, disabled Catholic dealing with being pigeonholed. His frequent response to the obvious question of how it is possible to be gay and Catholic is, "How can you be straight and stupid?" Linnehan points out the absurdity and ignorance in confusing an orientation with faith. This is the central theme of the play, which shows us it is possible to have these conflicting aspects weaved into one person because, according to Linnehan, who said in an interview "We are not black and white, but rather shades of grey."

Identity follows the flashbacks of the main character, Mike, played by Brian Shaer. Shaer spent much time listening to Nick's own voice to copy his speech pattern, which he executes smoothly and convincingly. In a series of flashbacks told through the window of a random visit with his Doctor (Nathaniel P. Claridad), Mike struggles with his existence because of outside forces, such as labeling and pigeonholing that society has established.

Identity cruises through the landmark moments in Mike's life: when he tries out for the JV team in high school, his first semester at college, and his first love. Linnehan ties in each aspect of Mike's identity to his central conflict. His flashbacks are depicted through dialogue between Mike and his parents, and played brilliantly by Nairoby Otero and Michael Everett.

Meeting with Linnehan was an enlightening endeavor, as he explained what he seeks to get across to his audience. "I want humans to be humans, and I don't want us to try to pigeonhole people anymore or say you're this or you're that. I think that we need it more now than ever. You see this in entertainment all the time. I am sick of seeing a homosexual person portrayed as a flamboyant character. I want to see real people, people like me, where every aspect of their life doesn't fit into this neat little box."

Using Mike's conflicts and showing how he deals with his sexual orientation as a backdrop, Linnehan shows that the point of Identity transcends sexuality and religion because of the universal message that "we are all trapped in this box called identity, which we must seek to destroy," he says.

In eliminating these borders, Linnehan believes that subsequently we will be closer to obliterating closed-mindedness, and can act more humanely toward each other. What is important for one to take away from this production is that one must not live his life according to the confines of a label or a socially constructed identity, but rather by the intuitions and abilities of his own heart and mind.

 
 
 

July 08, 2006
Identity by Nick Linnehan,
Directed by Ken Wolf
Manhattan Repertory Theatre, 303 West 42nd Street, 3rd floor
CAST
Sarah Giller, Nicholas Linnehan, Peter Quinones
AUTHOR
Nicholas Linnehan
DIRECTOR
Ken Wolf
Identity is a new play by Nicholas Linnehan, described as "an autobiographical tale of Cerebral Palsy, Catholicism, and Homosexuality." It's being presented as part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre's Summerfest.
nytheatre.com review
Martin Denton · July 6, 2006
Man in Chair, the narrator/star of the new musical The Drowsy Chaperone, says he hates it when characters in a play break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. He gets a laugh with that assertion, but before you start nodding in agreement, think about the danger—and the fun—that theatregoers would miss if Man in Chair's preference was always honored. Identity, an inventive new play by Nicholas Linnehan, exemplifies the kind of keen theatrical adventure that can be had when a character drops pretense and starts to confide in the audience.
Linnehan, who also stars in his play, portrays a character named Mike, who is a gay disabled Catholic. Though he's quick to point out that he chose only one of these three aspects of his lifestyle, he's just as quick to rail at God, his family, the universe—you name it—for giving him these various discordant crosses to bear
(so to speak). Identity, on its surface anyway, is a kind of theatrical intervention: Mike, who is apparently straitjacketed or otherwise restrained in the mental ward of a hospital following what we infer is a suicide attempt, is acting out (dreaming?) key moments from his life in order to try to gain control of it.
But the play begins, and is frequently interrupted by, Linnehan's character commenting on what's going on, or annotating the structure of the play, or, in one interesting place, suddenly dropping in a new scene. Is it Linnehan or Mike speaking to us at these moments? To everyone's credit, we're uneasily not quite sure. Linnehan and his director Ken Wolf manage the Pirandellian play-within-a-play conceit extremely well, and so the piece, which may or may not be Linnehan's actual autobiography, unfolds tantalizingly before us.
Where Identity could provide more information to us is in the area of Mike (and Linnehan's?) disability, which is Cerebral Palsy. One of the play's strengths is that it allows the audience to walk a mile in its leading character's shoes, and learn a bit of what it might be like to be a gay disabled Catholic. But the aspect of his life that most people probably have the least amount of information about—the disability— gets short shrift here. A revision of Identity might clarify for the audience the nature of Mike's condition.
Linnehan's storytelling prowess, though, is commendable, and his performance as this possible version of himself is compelling. Sarah Giller offers strong support as Mike's Mother, with whom he has a severe love/hate relationship, while Peter Quinones is fine as Mike's Father, his therapist, and (briefly) a priest. Wolf's staging is spare and simple, exploiting the intimacy of Manhattan Repertory Theatre's new tiny space without stinting on necessary production values.
Identity is an interesting introduction to playwright Linnehan, from whom we hope we will hear more in the future; and it's also a potent opening for Manhattan Rep's Summerfest, which continues into August with more than a dozen additional productions.
 

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