The Treasurer is Rich With Emotion at JRT

Near the end of The Treasurer, on stage now at Jewish Repertory Theatre’s Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre in Getzville,  the titular character reminds the audience that people don’t determine the length of their lives. While that may be debatable (spoiler alert: there are some suicidal ideations in the story), people can and do determine how their lives will be lived.

For Ida Klein Armstrong, that means she will live a life of excesses that are beyond her meager means and it’s her three sons (products of her first marriage) who are keeping her in the manner she believes she deserves…in a combination of duty, guilt, and -perhaps – some residual love.

This is strong stuff in playwright Max Posner’s script. While there are a few (precious few) moments that may bring a smile, this is a piece that may ring too close to home for some.  Another spoiler: see it anyway. Let it gnaw your conscience and redirect your senses. Perhaps make you better at loving and compassion, even when hoisting your own baggage.

That being said, the cast for this production is remarkable. David Lundy is the son who bears the burden of his mother’s life and takes control of her finances.  He’s the lead storyteller and in this way, the show is his 90-minute non-stop monologue.  He’s expressive, he’s fierce, he’s prescient in describing his own eventual demise, and while some corner of his heart may hold some love for his mom, the reality of dealing with her life choices over time occupies more space there. The subtle moment when he tosses the obligatory “love you” goodbye to his mom – as she says “I love you” and repeatedly asks him to “add the I” – is followed by a string of “I” statements. Yes, this son chooses where to insert a pronoun.  Poignant script writing here and Lundy’s execution is marvelous.

Darleen Pickering Hummer is Ida the mom. Charming and loveable to store clerks and telemarketers (and the sons who still feel the wounds of her earlier abandonment),  she is also manipulative and demanding. And then dementia begins robbing her mind and judgment.   Pickering Hummert’s performance is exquisite in its inherent sadness and bewilderment as the life she had is leaving her. While she’s superbly acting this role, there’s that jolt of reality that reminds us that her situation – the loneliness, humiliation, dependence on her sons, the loss of her faculties – is all too real. Her gorgeously expressive face will linger in your thoughts.

John Kreuzer  and Alexandria Watts appear in a variety of supporting roles, as store clerks and siblings and a particular significant other, both flexing their versatility chops in all good ways.  As always, they are joys to watch on stage.

In one brief scene, the son and one of Watts’ characters meet on a plane and off-handedly discuss Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. In reflection, The Treasurer is a bit of a nod to this story, where the son is the reluctant caregiver to his mom and her delusions.

Set designer David Dwyer kept the stage pristine, as is JRT’s wont.  Single and strategically placed chairs and a table were all that was needed.  Tom Makar dropped in some well-timed ambient noises when Lundy described his character’s bike riding, and Brian Cavanagh’s lighting punctuated key moments.  Director Saul Elkin knit these bits together to be stark, strongly emotional, and the kind of theatre that is occupying your head hours after you leave.

The Treasurer runs 90 minutes long with no intermission until February 27.  Find information and ticketing at https://www.jccbuffalo.org/jrt/.

“Indecent” is Sublime at Kavinoky

In 1906, Warsaw was a city in revolution. The Imperial Russian Army was terrorizing workers.  The city was in recession, a harbinger of things to come. Despite this grim reality, its Jewish community was creating art and celebrating its culture. Playwright  Sholem Asch was staring taboos  in the face with a provocative play of love, defiance, and unbridled sensuality. His ‘God of Vengeance’ told  the story of illicit love between a prostitute and the virginal young daughter of a brothel owner. It shocked the establishment, and enthralled a tailor who made it his life’s work to bring the production to the great capitals of Europe and then to New York where it met its demise.

This is the story within the story of “Indecent,” beautifully constructed by Paula Vogel and elegantly staged at Kavinoky Theatre now to March 29. Presented in collaboration with the Jewish Repertory of WNY, this marks the first theatre company partnership for the Kavinoky, and this is a perfect match stylistically and metaphorically, too.

In brief, this performance is stunning. The cast of 12 takes on multiple roles that make the experience even more robust than it is. Each character carries his own dignity in humbling, strong ways throughout the story that spans more than 50 years and many locations. In a blink, lives change as society struggles along.

Director Kristen Tripp Kelley uses every inch of Kavinoky’s space, from the wings to the house itself; the audience is literally wrapped in this performance. Set designer extraordinaire David King created a multi-layered canvas that transformed the Kav’s stage to the worn and weary European stage houses and war-torn buildings where Jewish culture was kept in secret.  Diane Almeter Jones did magical things with simple props; suitcases were vessels for travel that also became table supports and sign holders. The metaphors aren’t lost, they’re center stage. She dressed the set with scarves that wrapped, concealed, and transformed the actors. Brian Milbrand’s projections used a timeline in English and Yiddish that helped the audience keep pace with change in venue and the span of time. The silent movie-style narration on the projection is engaging, too. All these elements worked silently and seamlessly.

But it’s the cast constantly moving (carefully choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel Formato) cast against a vintage screen backdrop that was tasked to tell Vogel’s intense adaptation. Jordan Levin (last seen as Leo Frank in “Parade”last season at ART of WNY, another intense performance) is on fire as Lemml, the tailor-turned stage manager. His cast mates shine in their multiple roles. Arin Lee Dandes, Aleks Malejs, Adam Yellen, Peter Palmisano, Debbie Pappas Sham, Saul Elkin, and Matt Witten flex as ‘Vengeance’ cast members and others who  are both beguiled and outraged by immorality and expressions of love. The musicians are on stage, too, and weave into the cast as well. Watch the arch of violinist Maggie Zindle’s brow as the works her way around the stage, and the playfulness Megan Callahan has in toodling  klezmer tunes on her clarinet. Musical director Joseph Donohue III doubles as the accordionist, and Bassist Benjamin Levitt rounds out the sound.

There are some gorgeous moments here; some repeat for effect, like when fine ash falls from under actors’ coat sleeves in key sequences, and a soft fall of rain welcomes spring and a new day.

Good things happen when the right partners come together in strength and shared vision. The Kav and and JRT prove this, on stage and off. The Kav’s Executive Artistic Director Loraine O’Donnell and JRT’s founder Saul Elkin set the bar a little higher for theatre company collaboration with this one.

Before the show, O’Donnell previewed the Kav’s 41st season. Two musicals (“Something Rotten” and “Rock of Ages” ) light up the season. The British mystery “The Woman in Black” returns to this stage. The classic “Pride and Prejudice” will take a new spin (if you liked Irish Classical Theatre Company’s treatment of “Sense and Sensibility” last season, this adaptation was penned by the same playwright), and “People, Places, and Things, a powerful story about addiction closes out the 2021 season. O’Donnell knows how to keep an audience engaged while taking some calculated chances, too. All good.

“Indecent” runs 95 minutes without intermission and is onstage until March 29. Find tickets and details here.