nytheatre.com review by 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.