Review By: Carey Purcell
A nasty wake-up call is playing at the Culture Project in the form of Eve Ensler’s latest play. Starring Dylan McDermott and Portia, The Treatment is an expose of the illegal and unethical military methods used in wartime. Serving not as entertainment, but a call to action, it has lofty goals but falls short of achieving them.
Set in a stark, sterile office decorated in shades of military green office, The Treatment consists of scenes from therapy sessions between a shell shocked soldier and a government employed therapist.
As The Man, McDermott is the epitome of the shell shocked soldier. His hands are quivering, his eyes are bloodshot, he cannot focus on anyone or anything. He is insomniac and impotent and early on in his first session, he yells, apropos of nothing, “I don’t want to talk about my mother!” The Woman, played by Portia, is a government employed therapist attempting to learn what is haunting the man. She is cold, efficient and unrelenting. The two engage in a verbal battle, each of them asking questions and neither of them answering.
The relationship between the two is volatile and dynamic, constantly shifting the balance of who is in control and who has power. The depth of the characters is not revealed until long into the show, and it is not until The Woman begins to talk about herself that the show really takes off. At times both characters seem over the top, and it is difficult to believe that anyone would want to confide in Portia’s therapist. She is stiff-lipped and stern, and at times, extremely loud. Her unflappable professionalism bounces off of McDermott’s hysterical portrayal of the soldier, which involves everything from crying to drooling to stripping out of his clothes.
The extremities to which the characters are played drowns the play in drama and at times, overshadows the purpose of the performance. Only days after President Bush acknowledged the existence of camps like Guantanamo Bay, the play couldn’t be more relevant. Although the US government has repeatedly denied the use of torture at these camps, the evidence in the news suggests otherwise. Ensler’s play serves as a reminder of accountability, among other things, but to actually have an effect it has to make the audience become invested.
In order for the show to succeed, it requires the Man and Woman to be people. As unnamed, unspecified members of the military, they serve as symbols, representing the atrocities that are taking place. However, audiences bored with news of the war and numb to headlines announcing the latest death tolls require two-dimensional characters to get them really invested. We know nothing about the Man’s life. He has a wife and she sent him to the therapist. That is it. The Man and the Woman could be anyone from the headlines today, but the audience wants them to be someone they know.
There are carefully calculated moments of levity throughout the performance, including the line, “You don’t kiss like a PTSD freak.” However, the show is dark, both in setting and content. When The Man reveals what is haunting him, it is impossible to forget that this show is not fiction. It is based on reality – current reality. It takes us past the empty words of President Bush’s press conferences and Condeleeza Rice’s oaths that “the United States does not condone torture.”
The Treatment raises many questions, such as what “the rules” are, and if they can, and should, be broken. The lines are blurred during wartime and the question of what is right and wrong, and what is necessary, is asked, but not answered. In times of self-censorship and political correctness, when patriotism is questioned at every turn, any scratching of the surface is appreciated. Ensler’s show probes the exterior, but does not go deep enough.