"I'm not conceited. I'm not arrogant. But I believe that I'm one of the best writers in the world."
Now, it's kind of difficult not to perceive someone as conceited or arrogant after he says stuff like that, but Donyail Linsey believes he has the chops to back it up. "In order to be a playwright," Linsey says, "you have to have these characters inside of you, and I have so many characters inside of me .[But] it takes time, effort, motivation, finance. You have to be spiritually equipped."
So, just who the hell is this guy thinking he's all that? Well, he is the author of Giving Up the Ghost, a play premiering at the Encore Theatre this weekend. When he's not doing his job as tool-room manager for Brown & Root, the 27-year-old Houston native whiles away his time by taking up the pen. "My boss told me if I ever make it big-time, he's gonna sue me for writing plays on the job," jokes Linsey.
One day he dropped off a copy of Ghost to Encore Theatre owner and former college professor Harold J. Haynes. Although Linsey believes Ghost isn't his best work ("It's a work in progress," he says), Haynes liked what he read and recruited actor, film producer and veteran stage director Errol Anthony Wilks to helm the project.
Now don't be fooled by the gospel-sounding title. Set in Memphis in 1983, Ghostis about a man whose licentious lifestyle leads him to discover his niche in life. Inspired by the music of dearly departed bluesman Howlin' Wolf, the play has nothing to do with people whose arms are too short to box with God. "It's basically about giving up for others," says Linsey.
"The thing is, I admire people who sit down and write because I know that that's not my thing," says the Jamaican-born Wilks, 42. "Now I could look at something that you've written and tell you whether or not it could work or not. That's where I come in." He adds that his collaboration with the young Linsey may be the beginning of a beautiful working relationship. Linsey "has stipulated that Errol Anthony Wilks will direct every one of [his] shows," says the director. "He doesn't want anybody else to touch them except me."
Like any playwright, Linsey would like his work staged in major cities across the country, but for now he's humbled -- yes, folks, he's actually humbled -- to have Ghost performed at the acclaimed Encore. "It was a mistake, really," Linsey says of his playwriting aspirations. "I was just messing around on the computer at work. I just started writing. I said, 'Hey, August Wilson can write.' He is my idol, you know. I named my son August Linsey."
"Just keep making mistakes, man, okay?" Wilks says as laughter bellows from his mouth. "It keeps me in work, all right?"