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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
With The Treatment, The Culture Project kicks off its ambitious Impact Festival, a six week multi-disciplinary effort to bring "human rights, social justice and political action" squarely into the lens of arts patrons. Other festival events are scheduled around the city, and further details are available at the Festival website, www. impactfestival.org. The scope and depth of programming is astonishing, and should have a substantial impact on, if nothing else, the rest of the cultural community, if not the deaf ears to which it is ultimately directed.
Eve Ensler's play considers the recent subject of Iraqi prison abuse from the personalized circumstances of an un-named army sergeant (Dylan McDermott), who served as a military interrogator at the prisons, and the army psychologist assigned, putatively, to provide him counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and other consequences of his service. It's a subject laden with minefields of its own, though Ms. Ensler mostly skirts its underlying explosiveness. There is no trenchant exploration of the essential culture that gave birth to the headline-grabbing atrocities; the play's potential is undercut by jokes, overly-glib dialogue and a heavy dose of sexual energy.
In the end, one feels subjected to a bait-and-switch: having been lured into a drama about a topic worthy of our close attention, we are rewarded by its trivialization. One gets the rather distinct impression that the playwright has little to say as to how these roundly-condemned actions were seemingly routinely undertaken without being stopped. Why, the, are we here?
Leigh Silverman's direction is functionally sound and, though its pacing is fast -- bordering on frantic at times -- it becomes redundant and tedious. The action, such as it is, takes place in the psychologist's office (in which, for reasons not at all clear, she seems to live). In reality, isolated sessions don't always bear fruit, but dramatically they must build. After the third static one we sit through, more is need by those not being paid by the hour.
There is a sense that the actors are searching hard for their characters, but neither rises above the physical language cues that are abundantly on display. Mr. McDermott in particular seems awfully busy creating a persona that doesn't sit easily on his shoulders. One hopes both of them will become more settled with time.
The sergeant reveals a generalized skepticism of the process, and a discomfort with the mantle of "PTSD freak" that has been placed on him. The therapist pushes and pulls all the right buttons and, not surprisingly, gets results. After much resistance, when that breakthrough comes, it's with a false alacrity. Things then take a bizarre turn, for reasons that bring us full circle to trying to divine Ensler's purpose, before shifting yet again, back in a more interesting but no more explored direction.
Design elements are of a piece. From Richard Hoover's military interior design (lots of metal and vinyl) to Justin Townsend's lighting (which features some particularly nice effects) to Jill duBoff's clanky, insistent sound design, they are all well-executed.
But without some sort of insight, beyond an observer's point-of-view, what transpires onstage doesn't have much "impact".
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