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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
. By the time playwright has us meet her, Ida's pursuit of an interesting life and love affair with a credit card as well as a more interesting man has left her impoverished she hasn't abandoned her reckless big spender habits. And that's how her youngest son is forced into the role of the title character.
Like Kenneth Lonergan's 2000 Pulitzer Prize nominated The Waverly Gallery , Max Posner's The Treasurer, now having its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons' Peter Sharp Theater, was inspired by his own and his father's relationship with his Alzheimer afflicted grandmother. As Lonergan's Gladys Green, the increasingly frail and dementia afflicted octogenarian was played by an octogenarian (Eileen Heckart) , so Posner's octogenarian, Ida Armstrong, is portrayed by 89-year-old Deanna Dunagan who's best known to New York audiences as the family matriarch Violet Weston in August: Osage County.
Lonergan wrote the starring and most memorable role for Gladys but had his alter ego, her grandson, narrate his version of this all too easy to identify with tragedy. While Deanna Dunagan's performance as Mr. Posner's pivotal character is touching and often funny, the big star turn here belongs to Peter Friedman as the at even funnier but heartbreaking title character. Friedman is also our narrator with the grandson an authorial stand-in merely mentioned by Friedman's generically named The Son. As Posner notes in a program note, this is a story of "hereditary guilt" created by troubled mother-son-grandson relationships.
That "funny" to describe these in crisis characters is not a misplaced adjective. Given the dark reality of this story, we need some humor to offset the at times excruciatingly difficult to watch the disastrous economic and emotional travails of Posner's characters play out.
That long history of maternal inadequacy, filial resentment but also guilt is all conveyed in Friedman's lengthy, bravura monologue. Not everything in the 90 minutes that follows, that brilliant opening should make Peter Friedman remembered by best acting award nominators next Spring and earn Posner a place in any list of well worth watching young playwrights.
The busy director David Cromer and equally busy scenic designer Laura Jellinek have used the very wide stage of the Peter Sharp Theater to establish the physical distance between Ida and the youngest son. We see him mostly at the right side in Colorado. She's mostly on the other side in Albany, to which she and second and now dead husband Ron returned after years of high living in New York.
With just a few props at either side the barren, wide open playing area also reflects the barrenness of the mother and son connection. The lack of real connection between mother and son is made even more poignant by brief scenes involving Ida and various minor characters. Besides a local symphony fund raiser and sales people at a Talbot, Verizon and other stores cameos for the older brothers are all deftly handled by Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu). In her increasingly disjointed state, Ida finds these strangers easier to talk to than her son.
Friedman takes us right with him on his frustrating see-saw ride as the reluctant manager of his mother's life. Practicality calls for her move to a budget assisted living facility. Yet it means forcing her to abandon her life-long middle class status as well as her always inflated self-image— that is, unless the brothers are willing to let pity and guilt commit themselves to major financial support.
Dunagan scores points for the way she renders a not especially loving mother sliding into the frighteningly confusing desert of dementia. Some of the business about her wanting an IPhone strain a bit too hard for relevancy and laughs; so do the son's interchanges with an internet robot demanding personal information before letting him access her account at the assisted living facility. However, if the audience at the performance I attended is typical, it works.
As he did with his production of Our Town , David Cromer taps into what makes The Treasurer touch our hearts. He also again surprises us by having one very detailed mother and son scene in a restaurant. It takes up just a few minutes but it's a harrowing picture of their not having anything to say to each other that feels like forever. When it culminates in Ida's unexpected but heart stopping "I love you", we are not just swept up in compassion for both these people but fully see them as variations of ourselves. this pair, but fully but see ourselves — if not now, at some inevitable future date.
The Treasurer is not light-hearted, entertainment. Nor does it offer guidance to ease the difficult exit from life. But neither is there anything smug or falsely hokey about Mr. Posner's depiction of one man's battle with the slings and arrows tossed at his aging mother and the sleeping demons of resentment they stir in him. But Mr. Friedman sure offers a master class in nuanced acting. And the production overall is well worth seeing.
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The Treasurer by Max Posner
Cast: Marinda Anderson (Allen,the brother/Ronette/Others), Pun Bandhu (Jeremy,the other brother/Julian/Others), Deanna Dunagan (Ida Armstrong), Peter Friedman (The Son)
Scenic design by Laura Jellinek
Costume design by David Hyman
Lighting design by Bradley King
Sound design by Mikhail Fiksel
Projection design by Lucy Mackinnon
Wig Design by Leah J. LouKas
Stage Manager: Brett Anders
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Playwrights Horizons Jay Sharp Theater 416 West 42nd Street
From 9/06/17; opening 9/26/17; closing 11/05/17)
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 9/21 press preview
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