‘The Treasurer’ a Darkly Funny Family Play

Next Act production captures complications of caretaker son dealing with controlling mother's dementia.

By - Apr 29th, 2024 11:26 am
Reese Madigan and Annabel Armour. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Reese Madigan and Annabel Armour. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Don’t be duped by the title. The Treasurer is far removed from Wall Street financing. But its story about the internal conflict within a family caretaker — as a once financially carefree parent ages into dementia — rings deep and true. Particularly since the seemingly balanced son carries a closed mind as much as his elderly failing mother.

Max Posner is an interesting and sometimes deceptive playwright. He turns conversational prose into hints of offbeat poetry. He uses seemingly disjointed scenes to lead us to human connections, crashing seemingly random dialogue together to create insights.

It is a theater-savvy way to catch the bigger meanings. Though he is putting a lot of expectations on how director Cody Estle – the new artistic leader of the Next Act Theatre – will knit together the technical effects and the truthfulness of the actors. Both elements are important in this work.

But here he has two strong leads and two dutiful – in one case quite skillful — supporting players. They may not catch all the nuances built into the dialogue, but they always make the scenes interesting.

Without giving away too many of Posner’s methods of darting this way to go that way, this play also delivers laughter. Yet it is very serious in the circumstances. The son sounds confident in his own pragmatic competence, agreeing to handle the obligation of caring for a self-centered mother he never quite loved. And we can’t help but believe in his normality.

The setting is deceptively simple – a pastel shaded room with one armchair for much of the play. With gentle lighting by Becca Jeffords, the actors sometimes stand aloof from each other as family members often miles away speak on the phone.

The caretaker son, played with open appeal to the audience by Reese Madigan, seems conversationally comfortable, but hides explosive depths of anger as his stress increases. The mother, doting on her past material comfort and expectations of being obeyed, strays deeper into her fantasies, with Chicago actress Annabel Armour making every piece of dementia fit together with frightening believability.

It is often a duet of isolation between Madigan and Armour, the mother who still has control of his psyche even as she loses all balance in her self-centered patterns.

The other two performers play their relatives who are oh-so-quick with criticism and clucking advice, and also play an assortment of shopkeepers and phone strangers dealing with the mother’s quirks. Actress Alexis Green, playing the female roles, provides some captivating mini-characters, while Milwaukee veteran David Flores is quite competent playing the male roles.

Invisibly and with great understanding of the play, director Estle is demonstrating some thoughtful control of the atmospherics. Sound designer Josh Schmidt is not throwing random intriguing sounds our way but a complicated orchestration of effects. Only near the play’s end do you understand why two scenic designers. Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Milo Bue, were needed. Gregory Graham’s costume designs relish the mother’s fascination with her own outfits.

It’s a strong production of a probing play that ends neither with total reconciliation or total apprehension. The conclusion will strike home for anyone who has gone through such a family tragedy.

Not unrelated, the lobby walls, as usual at Next Act, are a gallery display. For this show it is Artistic Ambrosia: Arts and Longevity, with curator James Toth featuring artists aged from their seventies to their nineties.

The Treasurer runs through May 19 at the Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St. Tickets are available at or call 414-278-0765

The Treasurer Gallery

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blog here and here.

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