Total Rating: 
September 6, 2017
September 26, 2017
November 5, 2017
New York
New York
Playwrights Horizons
Theater Type: 
Playwrights Horizons - Peter Jay Sharp Theater
Theater Address: 
416 West 42nd Street
Running Time: 
1 hr, 45 min
Max Posner
David Cromer

According to Sartre’s No Exit, “Hell is other people.” If this is true, can we create our own hell by not loving those we are supposed to love?

As The Treasurer begins, it’s 7am in Denver. The Son (Peter Friedman) addresses the audience directly. He tells us he’s riding on his bike, that he was originally from Albany but moved to Colorado at his first opportunity, and “Somewhere in the future, I will be in hell,” because of his lack of affection for his mother (Deanna Dunagan).

Mind you, mom is no great prize. She abandoned her kids and her husband to run away with the thrilling Albany newspaper man, Ron Armstrong (seen here only as an armchair). She is supremely selfish, and massively self-involved. She got used to spending a fortune with Ron, and sees no reason to change now, even though she is deeply in debt, and has no money. The thankless job of looking after his mother’s finances falls to The Son; he accepts it when it’s obvious that his two brothers want no part of the work involved. They agree to a three-way split to deal with their mother’s bills, but they have no interest in dealing with her to any degree.

There is an inherent dilemma in the script. Why, exactly, does The Son take on such guilt about his lack of love for his unlovable mother, especially when he’s spending so much time and money looking out for her? He has a good home, a kind wife, and kids he clearly cares about; isn’t that enough? We see Ida desperate for attention, engaging salespeople in stores just to have a nice conversation with someone; she is demonstratively lonely. But why can’t The Son stand up to his siblings and tell them that yes, the credit cards have been shredded and will stay that way. Why can’t he tell them that the financial pinch is eating into his own nest egg? After agreeing to let Ida go to an extremely expensive assisted-care facility, he muses that he’ll have to just keep working forever. Why does he yield to the pressure being placed on him, rather than setting a specific amount that each brother must pay each month? There are things in life we simply cannot afford, both financially and emotionally.

Peter Friedman is a largely uncelebrated journeyman actor; the term refers to a performer who is steadily employed, and does consistently good work. How wonderful to see him get a real star turn here, and to handle this difficult role with such ease and yes, flashes of brilliance. Deanna Dunagan has done most of her theater work in Chicago, a city which has produced and nurtured many fine actors. She brings the quality of a bird with a broken wing to Ida. Our brains tell us she’s not worthy of our pity, but our hearts feel for her nonetheless.

Playwrights Horizons has a justifiably fine reputation for presenting serious, thoughtful plays. The Treasurer leaves the audience with much to ponder. For each of us, what is our individual hell, and what actions—or lack of them—do we think would consign us to the lower depths? Surely hell would be a place without rich, meaningful theater.

Marinda Anderson, Pun Bandhu, Deanna Dunagan, Peter Friedman
Set: Laura Jellinek; Costumes: David Hyman; Lighting: Bradley King
Michall Jeffers
Date Reviewed: 
October 2017