Familiarity doesn’t always arouse contempt.
When it comes to the talented pool of local actors who flock to the area’s stages, it often invites applause. Although not nearly as often, surprise. Therefore, the final moments in the Minors Alley Playhouse production of “The Treasurer” are particularly gratifying. They give a fresh look at the quintessential actor Billy McBride. But then again, McBride isn’t the only revelation of the drama—by a long shot.
McBride’s Ida, in her 80s, lives in Albany, NY. She is the mother of a 40-something son – an excellent, verbally adept August “Oggy” Truhn – who lives with his family in Denver. Bitter but also aware that this quality can fail, the son is the narrator of the play. And when his mother becomes unable to manage her finances, he takes on the fiduciary title of Max Posner’s play. Of course, accounting for the debts of an older child to each other and that of their parents can be a complicated matter. “Treasurer” is funny at times. It is also consistently smart – as in the wise, but at the same time it is going to hurt some.
Ida is a formidable, hopeless person. The son and his brothers are put into action when Ida’s husband dies. He was not their father, a fact that has some bearing on the son’s attitude towards his mother. Ida imagines that her life will go on as she has become accustomed to. The truth is harsher. The couple lived well, thanks to the smoke and debt mirror. The house she lives in is underwater and her older sons will need to throw her a large lifeguard in order to save her.
The son doesn’t like his mother much, a fact that is evident in his tormented, oh-so-nimble opening monologue. While we glean from his side about his own family — his wife, his son, his daughter — that he loves and adores, he doesn’t quite like it when it comes to Ida. Sure, many adult children can relate to passive-aggressive anger provoked 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 that: Hell? Actually? in a symbolic form? Credit the play’s ambitions and Truhan’s performance that we’re both mildly confused by his account of riding a bicycle and dying (did he? Did he?) and immediately feels prescient.
“Treasurer” clarifies, for those who were lucky enough to see it, that Trun’s take on a man battling mortality in “Wacky, Wacky” (the benchmark in 2019) was not a fluke, but a future one. Was a part of vigorous demonstrations.
By now you might think that “treasurer” is two-handed. It is not. As for female actors and male actors, Jasmine Jackson and Peter Trinh keep busy. In addition to playing Son’s brothers (in telephone calls), they are tasked with characters whose interactions with the leads are characterized as humorous, or poignant, or uncomfortable. Jackson and Trinh prove to be very versatile in their various roles.
Jackson’s poor sales associate at clothing retailer Talbot’s in Albany, with a professional compassion, tries to extricate himself from Ida’s memory lane meander, which is tested when an older woman clumsily moves on matters of race. Jackson also performs a mean version of a very scrupulous, unconvinced banking voice. Trinh gives a kind face as a stranger whose cell phone number has meaning to Ida. In a double presence near the end of the plays the pair orderly deliver tea and sushi at a gloomy, gloomy Albany restaurant. This is a fun and sad business. Food finds Ida and Son in the same place for the first time and not attached to each other on excited call after excited call.
For most “treasurers,” McBride paints a believable picture of necessity and authority. At that restaurant table, she shifts from impenetrable craft to a vulnerable vulnerability that doesn’t seem to have performed but is alive. The son’s indignation is silent and unshakeable. His silence, yes, is almost deafening.
The final scene is clever, not ostentatious. It’s sad and begs the question in the blink of an eye: What the hell is that, exactly? Others, maybe, but what else?
And now a brief word about the director of the play: John Moore. The local art journalist and former theater critic for The Denver Post displays a similar feel for Posner’s wit and wisdom; The play’s emotional beat, gentle and forgiving, and a good understanding of local talent, what they’ve done well and what they can do better.
So if you’re thinking this moment may come—a great opportunity for a critic to get a stinging rebuke as much as he gave it—you’ll have to wait for another opportunity. If you’re curious, instead, to see what theaters can produce — and love — in person trying on a different hat for the first time in years, you’re in luck.
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