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By Christina Ku
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, 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 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.
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.
“Last night's performance of "The Boys Next Door" was one of the best, if not the best production that we have seen a long time.
We were so moved by the script and performances that when the founder of the Identity Theater Company made a very "understated" pitch for financial assistance I dropped a $50 bill into his bronze cup.” Paul G
HEY! This is an off-off-Broadway show that I saw last night in the upper west side. It's a comedy from the 80s about four mentally challenged guys that live together as roommates. I'm always skeptical going to random off-off shows, but this one really got to me. GO. The actors are great, the story's touching as Hell, and there's a lot of that early/mid-80s theatrical direct address, if you're into that. It only runs this weekend."
- Quote from audience member
"Once in a great while, an evening in the theater becomes more than going to see a play, and even more than a theatrical experience. It transcends any and all art, and makes a statement, directly, about life itself...The Identity Theater Company’s version of The Tempest offers a similar experience – an event that leaves the play, and theater itself, behind, and trespasses ever so wonderfully into the Universe of Things That Need To Be Said."
ROBERT LIEBOWITZ Arts Independent