“The Treasurer” at Playwrights Horizons is a new take on an all-too-common problem: What do we do with mom?
Playwright Max Posner selects a mosaic approach for his tale. Two voices dominate — son and mother — and the production is blessed by the outstanding work of Peter Friedman and Deanna Dunagan in these roles. There is a tooth-and-nail intensity that these two gifted actors carefully lay before us.
Money is emphasized, but only as a narrative marker, not as a catalyst. The author’s approach veers away from closing this family circle somehow, in favor of splintered moments and dim encounters, without the organic consequences, which might bring this challenging material to some unifying end.
In a variety of roles, Marina Anderson and Pun Bandhu are compelling, honest, and always here and now. Director David Cromer employs his excellent cast to good advantage on “The Treasurer’s” elusive paths.
The mother’s dementia clouds the entire territory, often sequences of telephone calls and soliloquies, with some fringe encounters to flesh out these isolated souls. Any organic cohesion is like a sputtering flame.
Posner avoids the heartbeat of the big creatures he pulls up from the deep: Money, abandonment, love, mom, death and hell. Instead, we get glimmers, and a highlight reel of solo gems from both Friedman and Dunagan.
Friedman engages us with his clear, well-founded dilemma and his anxiety over the costs. But the play only allows him to loop colorfully from the starting line.
Deanna Dunagan is pitch-perfect all the way. She makes the universal condition of a fading flower a vivid portrait of individual character.
The actors do very well in this wandering format of questions left unanswered.
If we are told by a character that he is going to hell, we have a right to know why. But the author chooses not to tell us, and then flirts with the idea via a “Twilight Zone” maneuver that itself surely deserves some infernal punishment.
Nobody is helped by some questionable pacing. Or peculiar sojourns about body fluids. Perhaps these choices were part of a deliberate distancing or a journalistic intention, something to rattle our nerves.
Laura Jellinek’s set design followed this thorny school of thought with its own imposing ceiling here, and a palette of confinement and vacancy. Bland walls and shadowy corners create a phone booth aesthetic for one character, and a dollhouse America for another.
The add-on projections by Lucy Mackinnon are another misfire, too fragmented for any cohesive purpose.
Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design captures the telephone conversations beautifully, but does not resolve the limited impact of split dialogues. Moreover, the long-distance financial clashes between mother and son become repetitious, and although this may again be designed to show us the reality or an impression, the choice leaves us awaiting any excavation of the underlying conflicts.
One could argue that all these deliberate choices were a consistent attempt to show the frustrating and illogical world of dementia. But if so, the decision limits the entire package, and leaves us wondering why.