nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
August 13, 2011
Cunning. Baffling. Insidious. Powerful. These are words frequently used to describe substance abuse and drug addiction. Mush, written by Jim Tierney and presented as part of the FringeNYC Festival, explores the depths that drive addicts to use, often against their will. Tierney delivers a profound, yet fragmented, play.
At curtain we quickly learn that this story follows John, who accidentally overdoses after a night of partying with his best friend Joseph. The result of the boys' adventure is devastating. John is left practically brain dead, while Joseph is unharmed. The turmoil, despair, and rage experienced by Gary, John's father is palpable.
Gary decides to tour local schools educating young people about the danger of using drugs. While seemingly heroic, Gary's pain and anger are always present and we know he is a ticking time bomb. Ralph McCain plays this character with full emotional commitment, which makes us feel for his plight. He allows us to see into his world, and we are left feeling just as powerless as he is. Yet through struggling with his own feelings over his son, Gary starts to abuse his prescribed anti-anxiety drug. Prescription drugs are becoming the “new” drug to abuse in the 21st century. We empathize with his addiction, but nonetheless he starts taking these pills as a coping mechanism which while, understandable, is horrible in its own right. I wish Tierney had developed this aspect of the play further. Does Gary get clean? How does he get help for his problem, or does he? Addiction is often a familial disease, so I would of like more attention given to this, instead of leaving it up in the air.
Throughout the play, the chronology jumps around a lot, playing with time. Often the present is followed by the past and sometimes jumps to fantasy. These sudden leaps sometimes left me confused until I could figure out where we were. As a result, I feel like I missed some key moments because I was unsure of which time modality we were in. The plays scenes are choppy and numerous.
The cast rises to these challenges and delivers when needed. Brandon Jones as John, is able to jump through the rapid time changes well. He often breaks into the past, leading up to the night of his overdose, and we get to experience “normal” John and the present “vegetable” as he is called. To see a bright, charming, cocky youth lose everything after one night of reckless experimentation is all too real and thus is frightening to think that this really does happen. Jones captures both aspect of the character brilliantly.
The other cast members are competent, but I felt that Judy Stone was not nearly as invested in her primary character as Joanne, the wife of Gary's best friend. (Stone plays two other minor characters in the play.) Her acting seemed forced and rushed.
Mush says some great things that need to be said. Most of the time, it accomplishes its task. Yet, a little too often, we are taken out of the world of the play. But it is an important piece, and therefore we need to listen to what it's saying. So, at the very least, this needless tragedy does not happen to someone else.