Written by Max Posner
Directed by David Cromer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Max Posner’s “The Treasurer,” currently running at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, is a play about Ida Armstrong’s (played with a fragile irascibility by Deanna Dunagan) youngest son (played with an equally fragile ego strength by Peter Friedman) whose siblings have placed him in charge of their mother’s bank account, her spending, her assets and her liabilities. This role of treasurer proves difficult for a son who has allowed himself to be strong-armed by an uncaring mother who abandoned her children in their youth.
The Son’s collusion with his mother’s addiction to spending is not unlike that of any child who chooses to enable an addicted family member. Indeed, the entire family system has become completely dysfunctional through enabling Ida over the years because of unnecessary and clearly unreasonable layers of guilt. The Son is so racked with guilt he assumes – despite his disbelief in the construct – he will “go to hell” for his “mistreatment” of his selfish, horrible mother.
“The Treasurer” is a memory play narrated by The Son who attempts to “confront” his difficult mother in a long-distance relationship by phone and only succeeds in confronting his own deep-seated guilt about not being a good son. His older brothers Allen and Jeremy are played with authenticity by the same actors (Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu respectively) who play other roles. Playwright Max Posner seems to like repetition and, despite using one convention after another over and over, the first act manages to establish character, conflict, setting, and theme. The second act, unfortunately repeats this construct and makes the endeavor seem overlong and overwrought.
Mr. Posner’s play has much to offer and “The Treasurer” would have perhaps worked better if the fluidity and capriciousness of the mind matched more closely the workings of the script and if David Cromer’s unusual staging were less awkward and had better sight lines. This is an instance where a more realistic staging might have been more successful. There is no reason, for example, for stagehands to hang pictures after the actors are seated on stage – or if there is a reason, that needs to be made clearer.
There is much to mine in the underbelly of the dysfunctional family – especially when the encrustation is narrowly autobiographical. Mr. Posner might consider developing his characters more fully and delve into their motivations. How exactly did Ida’s leaving damage her children? Why have they allowed her to dominate their lives and their development? Why was there not an intervention at some point? Some of the play’s “scenes” are engaging and provide needed exposition about the protagonist. When, for example, The Son meets Woman (played with charming believability by Marinda Anderson) “on a Boeing 737 headed straight to Albany,” the audience begins to get a glimpse of how guilt can fester over time.
The Son’s monologues – delivered with the right amount of guilt-ridden anxiety by Peter Friedman – overshadow the “action” of the play. The “scenes” do not move the action forward with sufficient depth to provide the much-needed catharsis at the end of the play. The audience is left caring less than it should about a theme that deserves more development by the skilled cast exploring the script’s nooks and crannies for memories that matter.