NEW YORK—Max Posner’s take on a mother-son relationship is rife with subtext, adding dimension and color to every moment. And director David Cromer’s contribution to “The Treasurer” is right on the money.
On the surface, the son (Peter Friedman, in a quietly gut-wrenching performance) has been appointed by his two younger brothers to take charge of their mother’s finances. Ida (impeccably portrayed by Deanna Dunagan) just can’t stop spending the family’s money.
Recently widowed, Ida apparently seeks love by making friends with people who want her money. For instance, there’s the saleswoman at Talbots (Marinda Anderson, who effectively plays multiple characters), from whom Ida chattily purchases purple corduroy pants, because they will go well with a jacket she bought years ago (the wealthy years) at Bergdorf-Goodman.
Then there is a seductive salesman (funny Pun Bandhu, who plays all of the other male roles), who convinces Ida to buy a couple of pillows for only $700. “They are sooo comfortable,” he croons. How can Ida resist?
Though Ida resides in Albany, New York, and the son in Denver, Colorado, distance makes the heart grow colder. As the son struggles to keep his grip on his rising ire, Ida continues to go her own manipulative but charming way, even though she has been relegated to the confines of a retirement home from her former elegant abode.
Simmering throughout these mundane events, there is a tug-of-war between strained filial devotion and just plain rage on the son’s part, as Ida’s spending tends to deplete the family treasury, such as it is.
The son also feels guilt: Why can’t he find it in his heart to love his mother? Because Ida walked out on their family years ago when he was 13—to marry an eminent newspaper editor. The seeds of the rejection he perceives run deep.
As time advances, Ida is losing what little grip on reality she possessed, and although the son now has firmer control over her spending, he’s not the happier for it. Guilt seems to seep through his seeming confidence.
A melancholy tone permeates a later scene between mom and son in a Japanese restaurant. Ida comments unhappily that the food is cold. The son tersely replies, “It’s supposed to be.” Conveyed is the chasm between two worlds.
The restaurant is depicted by the placement on the wall of the famous “The Wave” print by Katsushika Hokusai, a shrewd choice by set designer Laura Jellinek, whose varied settings appear and vanish like a muted melody.
Her work is enhanced by the sometimes mysterious lighting by Bradley King. The sense of other-worldliness is deepened by the frank use of set-changers in headsets.
The warm applause from the audience attested to the play’s emotional power. We all have mothers, after all.
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or PlaywrightsHorizons.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (no intermission)
Closes: Nov. 5
Diana Barth writes for various arts publications. She may be contacted at [email protected]