The Treatment

  • Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman

    Review by Barbara Mehlman

    Written by: Eve Ensler
    Directed by: Leigh Silverman
    Cast: Dylan McDermott and Portia.
    Synopsis: A two character drama that delves beneath the layers of power, fear and intimacy between a traumatized soldier (and former military interrogator) and the female psychologist Colonel who is assigned to give him a routine treatment. What follows is a blunt exploration of torture, accountability and a soldier's 'duty' to commit atrocities in the name of democracy.

    Great books have been known to change the world. Charles Dickens wrote "Oliver Twist," and within two years, England's child labor laws were changed. After Rachel Carson's 1962 book, "Silent Spring," was published, the environment has been part of the national agenda ever since.

    Would that theater could have such an impact. Bertolt Brecht believed it could be a change agent, but unlike books, which can be placed in the hands of millions of people, the audience for theater is limited. Yet playwrights who need to speak out against evil, cruelty and injustice continue to produce passionate works to serve their causes.

    Probably the first such play was Aristophanes' "Lysistrata," a protest against the Peloponnesian Wars, and is today used as the touchstone for the Lysistrata Project, a protest against the war in Iraq. Arthur Miller's oft-produced "The Crucible" took aim at the Army-McCarthy Hearings, and "No Child," an exquisite little off-Broadway play, is looking to change our educational system.

    Eve Ensler's hugely successful "The Vagina Monologues," which tackled sexual violence against women with music, drama, and comedy, has been produced in more than 90 countries, and has raised approximately $40 million for organizations who provide shelter and protection for battered and abused women.

    Her new play, "The Treatment," starring Dylan McDermott, has just opened off-Broadway as part of the Impact Festival at The Culture Project, a place where "culture and politics" collide, and the subject here is wartime atrocities, torture, and the burden of responsibility. Who exactly, the play asks, should we blame for such egregious acts of degradation against other human beings? The soldiers who carry out the wishes of their superiors? The senior officers? The government? And if you find yourself thinking "Abu Ghraib," the parallels are not accidental.

    McDermott, in a highly charged, deeply emotional performance, plays the part of Any Soldier whose wartime role for six years was to interrogate prisoners of war, and though the war is unspecified, you know what war it is anyway. We meet him after he has been home for three months, sitting hunched over in a psychiatrist's office suffering from an extreme case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His hands quiver, he rocks, yells, moves around like a threatened animal, and cries out that he can't stop the "noise."

    "What brought you here, soldier?," asks the psychiatrist. "My wife," he shouts back. In fact, his wife gave him an ultimatum because his overwhelming anger and insomnia were threatening to destroy their marriage.

    Through many sessions in a routine treatment, the soldier finally begins to unravel and spill his guts, even barging into the psychiatrist's office in the middle of the night in his pajamas -- murderous and suicidal, and his treatment from that moment on becomes anything but routine. By the end of this 70-minute play, the soldier, and the psychiatrist, powerfully played by the one-name Portia, are exhausted, and so are we.

    McDermott is best known as the hotshot lawyer in the television series, "The Practice," and does not appear on stage often which is too bad. In "The Treatment," we get to see the full range of his talents and they are prodigious. Portia, equally as talented as McDermott, is less familiar to theatergoers, but some of you may remember her powerful performance in "Frankie & Johnny " at Hartford Stage.

    "The Treatment" is an outstanding piece of work, and while it probably won't be as successful as Ensler's landmark play, it will certainly join the collective crescendo of voices who want the Iraq war to end.

    Barbara Mehlman