The Treasurer

Theater, Comedy
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Adam Feldman

“I will be in hell because I don’t love my mom,” the middle-aged Son (Peter Friedman) tells the audience in Max Posner’s searching and subtle drama The Treasurer. The Son’s tone is candidly analytical but not cold: His relations of his relations to his relations are relatable. His mother, Ida (August: Osage County’s flinty Deanna Dunagan), abandoned—his word—his family when he was a child. Now she is a widow, living in Albany and stubbornly spending beyond her means; at the urging of his older brothers, the Son assumes responsibility for her finances. “I want her to die,” he admits, “for practical reasons.”

Notwithstanding Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous line, which is quoted in the program, hell in The Treasurer isn’t other people but the lack of them. As Ida slides into dementia, she becomes increasingly isolated, making desperate and inappropriate efforts to connect with strangers (mostly cornered salespeople). We see these moments, but the Son doesn’t; until one late scene of pained small talk in a tatty sushi joint, they interact only by phone. Money gives them something to talk about, at least, but controlling her purse strings can’t bring back the apron strings she snipped. “I actually just don’t have sad emotions,” he claims; if that’s true, it’s partly because he displaces them into resentment and rage. Yet he feels guilt over his absent tenderness, a kind of phantom pain.

Posner employs a few distancing gestures, including oblique puns (one of Ida’s prior last names was Klein) and an explicit nod to The Glass Menagerie, the play’s stylistic and thematic uncle. But The Treasurer ultimately feels emotional and personal, balancing the inevitability of Ida’s decline with unexpected swerves in the Son’s complex reactions. David Cromer’s precise, unsentimental staging gives the play the room it needs to breathe—except for the restaurant, Laura Jellinek’s set is purposefully vague—and the actors fill the space he gives them. I will not soon forget watching Friedman, a performer of uncanny ease, evoke the private hell of the Son’s devising, where his wounds are licked by gentle flames.

Playwrights Horizons (Off Broadway). By Max Posner. Directed by David Cromer. With Peter Friedman, Deanna Dunagan. running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Oct 22.

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