nytheatre.com review by 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.