The Treatment, Eve Ensler's glimpse into a series of encounters between a traumatized war veteran and his psychologist, is heavy-handed, forced, and convoluted. And yet I couldn't help shake the feeling when I left the theatre that I was grateful for the experience to which I had just been privy.
Ensler takes a big side-step from her best-known work, The Vagina Monologues, to take on an even more political stance. Without directly mentioning it, she condemns the American military presence in Iraq by depicting the mental and physical ways those fighting on the front line have become poisoned by the conflict. Director Leigh Silverman (Well) guides this entreaty into what goes on within the armed forces, playing at the Culture Project as part of the Impact Festival.
Dylan McDermott (Ensler's stepson) plays a beleaguered unnamed soldier who must see a military psychologist (Portia) upon his return from a tour of duty. Clearly suffering from many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the sergeant is a quivering mess with a failing marriage and many demons.
As his problems unfold, so too does a relationship develop - a little incredulously. The sergeant comes to his psychologist at all times, day and night; apparently she neither has a life nor any need for sleep. Eventually he opens up about his sexual dysfunction and starts hitting on his helper, slowly breaking down her walls. He also unloads about his other problems, perhaps too articulately for someone so stunted. Still, this proves to be a revelatory - and revealing - performance for McDermott, and an intriguing exposure for Portia. Her psychologist has an agenda of her own, too, spelled out a little too clearly and disappointingly in the play's final minutes.
Ensler does not provide a new viewpoint for any of the topics she addresses in Treatment. Those enraged by the war in Iraq will continue to be, and those who support it (if any would attend the work by such a left-leaning artist) will summarily dismiss the declarations that spew so easily from the mouths of Ensler's characters. McDermott, though, is totally immersed in the role, and an astonishing amount of fireworks. The trouble is, Ensler does not provide enough kindling to start an actual fire.