nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
September 11, 2006
This is not the Dylan McDermott we're used to. The star of Eve Ensler's new drama, The Treatment, obliterates the smooth, confident persona he forged during seven seasons on the television series The Practice, and replaces it with a rough-edged turn as a shell-shocked war veteran. Playing a nameless military Sergeant (his character is billed only as the Man in the program) who has recently returned from the war, McDermott's character is a drooling, disheveled mess, both jittery and anguished. But, there's nothing ramshackle about the actor's accomplished performance. It is powerful and convincing, and provides the emotional center of this gripping drama.
The Man, a six-year veteran of the service, has not been the same since he returned home. Paranoid and anxious, he is overcome by post-traumatic stress syndrome and plagued with insomnia. His struggle to re-adjust to civilian life lands him in the office of a female military psychologist (billed only as the Woman), a hard-nosed Colonel in her own right.
At first, the Man and the Woman play cat-and-mouse games. He is a former military interrogator, and suspicious of any tack she takes to get him to talk. He knows all the tricks of the trade, so to speak. But, he keeps coming back for his treatment, as their sessions are called, obviously wanting to repel the demons that are eating away at him. Through a series of intense scenes, as the heart of the Man's unrest and the Woman's driving motive for helping him are both revealed, The Treatment examines the lengths to which soldiers will go to do their duty, and the emotional cost they pay for it.
Ensler doles out the personal information about both characters sparingly, but to great effect: what knowledge the audience does gain helps fill in the blanks the playwright intentionally ignores. For instance, the Man and the Woman both like rules: she because of a military upbringing spent believing in codes, he because "you can rely on them." The Man also believes in war—or, as he calls it, "doing my job." During an emergency session in the middle of the night, the depth of his trauma begins to unfold: when the Woman offers to prescribe him sleeping pills, he helplessly replies, "Pills? They can't even touch it." At another session, the Man admits that "No one looks like a terrorist in their pajamas" while in the midst of a sedative-fueled tangent (the comment springs from the fact that he has worn his pajama bottoms to his session). But, it ends up being the innocent-enough comment that finally spurs him to begin telling the Woman his story.
Ensler also ratchets up the tension by adding an unexpected sexual element to The Treatment. The Man is sexually frustrated: a side effect of his trauma is impotence. He's reluctant to talk about it at first, but eventually relents. Then, he makes a more blatant comment: "A shrink in a uniform: it's hot." It's not long before he's telling the Woman about the erotic dream he had about her. She doesn't flinch throughout all of this—until she admits her attraction to him. From there, the Man and the Woman reach a level of intimacy and trust that allows them to reveal more than either of them expected. In one instance, as the Man cuddles her on the office couch, the Woman's button-down demeanor cracks open long enough for her to admit "I forgot about bodies." Later on, she tells the Man that she likes him "Because you are possessed. Because you are capable of being haunted."
As I said before, McDermott is terrific. He is matched by LAByrinth Theater Company powerhouse Portia as the Woman. She is his equal in both skill and intensity. Together, their rapport and interplay on stage is like great jazz: spontaneous, unpredictable, and surprising. Neither of them makes a false move. They keep the audience riveted with their full-bodied, three-dimensional, organic performances.
Director Leigh Silverman and her team of designers—Richard Hoover (sets), Justin Townsend (lights), and Candice Donnelly (costumes)—create an unnerving rat-in-a-cage atmosphere that gives the production added menace and tautness. They all do exemplary work here.
With The Treatment, Ensler comes up with a compelling play that also works as a showcase for its two wonderful leads. She also follows Arthur Miller's old maxim of making the political personal. By the time The Treatment reaches its bracing conclusion (which I won't spoil here), the author has shown us that, no matter which side has the upper hand, no matter how well one follows orders, war is the ultimate no-win scenario.