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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Culture Project

By Brian Scott Lipton

  Portia (left) and Dylan McDermott in The Treatment at the Culture Project, New York

Just as evangelical Christians have their revival meetings, political liberals have the theatrical productions at the Culture Project - such as "The Exonerated," Guantanamo," and "Guardians" -- to reaffirm their faith that the media is bad, justice is rarely served, and America is in deep doggy-doo-doo. And since the theater's latest offering, "The Treatment" is written by the ever-provocative Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," and "Necessary Targets," it should come as no surprise to the audience that the news will be bad. That the play is more affecting than most of the Culture Project's previous projects has much to do with Ensler's skill as a playwright, the sharp direction of Leigh Silverman, and the powerhouse performances of the single-named Portia and TV star Dylan McDermott (who happens to be Ensler's adopted son).

Given Ensler's history, it's not surprising either that Portia plays a very strong woman - an unnamed military psychiatrist who sits ramrod straight, is loathe to take off her uniform, and gives as good as she gets as she questions the decidedly shell-shocked, equally unnamed soldier (McDermott) who is reluctantly making visits to her office (well designed by Richard Hoover). The sergeant, a military interrogator, is desperate to make the loudness in his head go away, but rather reluctant to discuss what happened to him. And while Ensler never specifies the play's time or place, one is clearly supposed to think Abu Gharib.

What has specifically caused the soldier's breakdown and why specifically the psychiatrist is spending so much time with him are revealed by Ensler in the final scene of her 70-minute play in a pair of Neil LaBute-like twists. She's not quite as accomplished as LaBute, though, having telegraphed at least one of the plots developments a bit too early. But she has a great ear for dialogue and a well-honed instinct for building a scene's tension.

McDermott is to be praised for giving a remarkably brave performance (including spending numerous minutes in nothing but his tighty-whities), fully embracing the soldier's hysteria, paranoia, and anger. It's the kind of role where any actor must constantly straddle the finest of lines between acting and overacting, and McDermott stays on the right side of that line more often than not. Portia, whose character is supposed to be alternately clinical, repressed, and eventually just as shattered as McDermott's, once again proves to be one of the theater's most exciting and accomplished performers, holding her own every step of the way.

Ultimately, "The Treatment" won't make any converts, but neither do most revival meetings.



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