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The Treasurer

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - September 26, 2017


Peter Friedman
Photo by Joan Marcus

Filial guilt may seem a slender thread on which to hang a whole evening. And it turns out, with The Treasurer, that it is. Max Posner's comedy-but-mostly-drama at Playwrights Horizons is about a nameless son in Denver (Peter Friedman), his aging mother in Albany (Deanna Dunagan), and their fraught relationship becoming more complicated as she descends into senility and dementia and he, convinced he's the most responsible of her sons, assumes financial responsibilities for her, becoming the "treasurer" for the three sibs pouring more and more money into keeping her alive. Posner has a distinct voice, almost aggressively prosaic and conversational, and there's some deep feeling in his child-parent deliberations. But he hasn't offered a surprising or dramatic story, and he's surrounded the proceedings with a lot of . . . air.

Yes, air—scenes that go nowhere, protracted silences that tell us nothing, thoughts that end in midsentence, narration that can't stay focused on one subject and wanders blithely into another. The randomness starts at once, with the Son facing front and assuring us he'll wind up in hell, then rambling off onto some tangent about his wife, then serving up some earlier history of his mom's life. Ida is, he assures us, "impossible," "beyond selfish," "the definition of delusional." We can understand his rancor—she abandoned the family, he says, when he was 13, and broke his father's heart. But when we meet her, she doesn't seem any of these things. She's just a sensible-seeming Jewish matron, interested in other people, generous with the arts, occupied with tennis and her aging dog and her struggles with technology, notably the Internet. And she's not, let's stress here, fascinating.

Two other actors, Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu, are also on hand, to be everyone else—the two other sons, a Talbots saleswoman who momentarily befriends Ida, a bedding salesman who hawks a $700 pillow on her, the suicidal boyfriend of the hairdresser of the Son's wife (sounds like a tangent, it isn't really). Posner wants to paint a complete picture of Ida and her Son, and while he arguably succeeds, neither is anyone we want to spend a lot of time with. The Son indulges in lengthy monologues, in a loose, non sequitur style—he'll end something midsentence, start over, leap to another topic. It's how people really talk. And there's a reason playwrights don't employ it a lot. Posner's naturalism runs to the extreme; if Ida and her Son are in a restaurant not talking to each other, he'll show it, every moment of silence and nonaction. He wants us to see they don't communicate? There has to be a more economical way.

It's an interesting conundrum—if the Son has taken the reins of such an impossible situation, organizing his mom's mountain of debts and paying with his sibs into the expensive assisted-living residence she wants, and if she's been a selfish, irresponsible mom, why does he feel such guilt, virtually willing himself into hell? But Posner doesn't answer the question, he just asks it. It's an unfinished relationship, emphasized, perhaps, by Laura Jellinek's unfinished set, under-construction walls with projections and reasonably complete renderings of the Son's home office and the restaurant where he and Ida meet. David Hyman's costumes are unobtrusive, and Bradley King and Mikhail Fiksel manage some nice lighting and sound effects.

The director, David Cromer, no less, makes some questionable choices—why have an actor just crouch in darkness upstage, waiting for his entrance?—and has his actors largely refrain from large emotions, as Ida and her kids appear to be people who internalize a lot and often withhold their true feelings. We do have to witness Ida's deterioration, from a self-sufficient senior citizen to a dependent aged parent given to forgetfulness and an uncontrolled bladder. And that's painful to watch, thanks to Dunagan's finely wrought rendering of a failing matron, evidently respected in the community, but losing her faculties and desperate for connections with younger people. Friedman presents every aspect of the Son's personality without ever making us care a lot about him, and Anderson and Bandhu, often having to try on new characters, do so on a dime, though I don't really believe them as Ida's sons.

No doubt a parent's decline is a situation many Playwrights Horizons subscribers have dealt with, or will have to soon, and it's an innately dramatic crisis. That's why it's curious how The Treasurer smooths everything out—keeping the language simple and unpoetic, tamping the emotions down, lingering on the smaller moments of life. Is Posner aiming for universality? I'm afraid he's largely achieved passivity.


The Treasurer
Through October 22
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42 Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral


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