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The Treasurer

Peter Friedman and Deanna Dunagan are superb in this choppy family drama that is at times very funny and moving but is weighted down by stylistic excesses.

Peter Friedman in a scene from Max Posner’s “The Treasurer” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

At times very funny and moving, playwright Max Posner’s choppy family drama The Treasurer is weighted down by authorial, stylistic excesses. Luckily it has the superb Peter Friedman and Deanna Dunagan as a contentious son and mother who elevate the patchy material.

Mr. Friedman walks out onstage and swiftly launches into a free associative monologue with the house lights on. Friedman is a distinguished veteran of the New York City stage, and his exquisite comic timing coupled with measured, simmering rage is a joy to experience throughout the production.

He is “The Son,” a married geologist in his 60’s with three children, who lives in Denver, Colorado. He is the youngest of three children. When he was 13, his mother Ida left his father to take up with and eventually marry another man in their native Albany, New York. Now widowed, and after a lifetime of careless extravagance, Ida is destitute and living in a home that’s in foreclosure.

This hateful son becomes his mother’s treasurer, resentfully overseeing her move to a luxury nursing home and paying her bills with slight input from his siblings. While at the computer going over Ida’s spending, Friedman’s anger channels years of suppressed fury.

Deanna Dunagan and Pun Bandhu in a scene from Max Posner’s “The Treasurer” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Ida is played by Ms. Dunagan. She is the celebrated Chicago actress who delivered a legendary, Tony Award-winning performance as the dynamic matriarch in the 2007 Broadway transfer of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County.

With her slim physique, flawless diction, melodiously husky voice and imperious bearing, Dunagan is commanding. She conveys the character’s arrogance, selfishness and harrowing mental decline due to dementia with steely flair. She forcefully embodies the archetypal distant mother who damages her children.

There are many moments that she infuses with humor and depth. Her reactions to a phone call from a telemarketer from the Albany Symphony, that her 14-year-old dog has to be euthanized, interacting with a clerk at Talbots, walking her new dog in winter, and mistakenly calling an ex-con in Tampa, Florida, and discussing lemon bar recipes with him are some of the incidents Dunagan gloriously enriches with her captivating talent.

Pun Bandhu and Marinda Anderson delightfully portray the variety of other roles including relatives and incidental characters. Mr. Bandhu and Ms. Anderson are both equally charming and collectively make an impact during their recurring appearances.

Peter Friedman and Deanna Dunagan in a scene from Max Posner’s “The Treasurer” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Mr. Posner based The Treasurer on events that his family experienced and he eschews a straightforward narrative for an unsatisfying, fragmented structure of vignettes, monologues and a metaphysical conclusion that all result in emotional distance. Posner’s dialogue, however, is well observed, humorous and insightful and that makes the play fitfully compelling.

Besides the outstanding performances, director David Cromer’s staging achieves a striking visual dimension that is faithful to the author’s chilly and spacy vision. A conventional detour is a marvelously presented scene at a realistic Japanese restaurant. Mr. Cromer also has stagehands enter and exit to rearrange scenery. This is usually a grating device but here is handled gracefully.

The stage is compartmentalized into sparely furnished rooms that are gray, blue or under construction. Scenic designer Laura Jellinek adeptly realizes the quasi-realistic universe the events unfold in.

Bradley King’s lighting design boldly transmits the sense of the combination of the ethereal and the everyday with his smoky, dim and brightly, stark hues. A cool touch of Mr. King’s efforts are rooms changing colors signifying changes in locales and times.

Peter Friedman and Marinda Anderson in a scene from Max Posner’s “The Treasurer” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design is a well-modulated collection of background music, voice overs and effects such as a barking dog.

From before the play begins, and periodically until it ends, Lucy Mackinnon’s eerie projection design has vintage images of the characters and places shown on the stage’s walls for moody results.

An eye-catching pair of purple corduroy slacks at Talbots that Ida covets as it will complement a just as catchy purple corduroy blazer she bought at Bergdorf Goodman 40 years earlier are among the perfect pieces that costume designer David Hyman has assembled to depict this colorful personality. The other characters are all authentically realized as well.

Conceptually erratic though poignant, The Treasurer is nearly redeemed by its two powerful, central performances.

The Treasurer (extended through November 5, 2017)

Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater

416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (421 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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