tweet this Content by Twitter, Facebook; Reddit or other Networks, thanks!
Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.
When it comes to the talented pool of local actors who people the area’s stages, it often invites appreciation. Although not nearly as often, wonder. So, the final moments in the Miners Alley Playhouse production of “The Treasurer” are particularly gratifying. They afford an opportunity to see the very fine actor Billie McBride afresh. But then, McBride isn’t the play’s sole revelation — by a long shot.
McBride’s Ida, in her 80s, lives in Albany, N.Y. She is the mother of the 40-something Son — a masterfully, verbally dexterous August “Augie” Truhn — who resides with his family in Denver. Bitter but also aware that this quality may be a failing, the Son is the play’s narrator. And when his mother becomes unable to manage her finances, he takes on the fiduciary title of Max Posner’s play. Of course, a grown child’s accounting of his and his parent’s debts to one another can be a complicated matter. “The Treasurer” is at times funny. It is also consistently smart — as in intelligent, but also as in this is going to hurt some.
Ida is a formidable, frustrating figure. The Son and his brothers are thrown into action when Ida’s husband dies. He was not their father, a fact that has some bearing on the Son’s attitude toward his mother. Ida imagines her life will go on in the manner to which she has grown accustomed. The truth is harsher. The couple lived well thanks to the smoke and mirrors of debt. The house she lives in is underwater and saving her will require her grown sons to throw her a sizable life preserver.
The Son doesn’t much like his mother, a fact he’s frank about in his aggrieved, oh-so-nimble opening monologue. While we glean from his asides about his own family — his wife, his son, his daughter — that he is loved and loving, when he talks about Ida, he’s not exactly likeable. Sure, many an adult child can relate to the passive-aggressive anger stirred by a narcissistic parent, but it’s never a good look.
He tells us in the opener that in the future he “will be in Hell.” Should we believe him: Hell? Actually? Figuratively? Credit the play’s ambitions and Truhn’s performance that we are both mildly confused by his account of riding around on a bicycle and dying (did he? Does he?) and immediately drawn in by what sounds prescient.
“The Treasurer” makes plain for those who were fortunate to see it, that Truhn’s commanding take on a man riffing on mortality in “Wakey, Wakey” (Benchmark in 2019) was not a fluke but a portent of vigorous performances to come.
By now you may think “The Treasurer” is a two-hander. It is not. As Female Actor and Male Actor, Jasmine Jackson and Peter Trinh stay busy. In addition to playing the parts of Son’s brothers (in telephone calls), they are tasked with characters whose interactions with the leads play as humorous, or poignant, or uneasy. Jackson and Trinh prove terrifically versatile in their various roles.
Jackson’s poor sales associate at clothing retailer Talbots in Albany tries to extricate herself from Ida’s memory lane meander with a professional compassion that gets tested when the older woman treads clumsily on matters of race. Jackson also does a mean version of a too-probing, disembodied banking voice. Trinh gives being flummoxed a kind face as the stranger whose cell phone number holds meaning for Ida. A dual appearance near the plays’ end has the pair methodically delivering tea and sushi at a sad, sad Albany restaurant. It is a funny and melancholy bit of business. The meal finds Ida and Son in the same space for the first time and not tethered to each other on aggravating call after aggravating call.
For much of the “Treasurer,” McBride paints a believable portrait of need and entitlement. At that restaurant table, she shifts from unimpeachable craft to hushed vulnerability, rending for it seeming to not be performed but lived. The Son’s resentment is muted and implacable. Their silence is, yes, nearly deafening.
The final scene is clever without being showy. It’s sad and winking and poses the question: What is Hell, exactly? Other people, perhaps, but what else?
And now a quick word about the play’s director: John Moore. The local arts journalist and former theater critic for The Denver Post displays a kindred feel for Posner’s wit and wisdom; a good sense of the play’s emotional beats, the tender and the unforgiving, and a well-wrought grasp of the local talent, what they have done well and what they can do even better.
So if you are thinking this moment could bring a comeuppance — a fab opportunity for a critic to get as good as he gave, to get a stinging rebuke — you’ll have to wait for another opportunity. If you’re curious, instead, to see what years of knowing — and loving — theater might produce in a guy who’s trying on a different hat for the first time in years, you’re in luck.