By Tania Fisher
Award winning playwright Joseph P. Krawczyk asks some big questions. Does the afterlife exist or not? Can science and religion really coexist? This extraordinarily interesting and creative thesis of the human condition is indeed a fascinating night of theater. Now playing at the IATI Theater, an intriguing journey is yours for the taking, with this fantastical avant-garde production.
Two male characters, Bic (Brent Shultz) and Bral (Sean Phillips) seem to be incarcerated in some kind of prison cell or perhaps it’s a psychiatric ward; neither they nor the audience know at first. They awake with severe amnesia. Tedium (Tatiana Ronderos) appears to be in charge and can communicate with the two men via video projection from outside their cell. Another staff employee, Paragon (Marlene Villafane) is instructed to help the two men regain their memories while simultaneously extracting “knowledge” from them, and it is this knowledge that holds the secrets and truths that can fundamentally change the current ways of existence. An intellectual battle of spirituality vs. science takes hold and explores both the power of truth and the dangers in suppressing it.
We are at once confronted with a striking set by talented Scenic & Props designer Fufan Zhang presenting an, albeit risky choice, of a floor to ceiling metal mesh screen which remarkably does not take anything away from the production but alternately actually adds to both the feeling of isolation and confinement of Bral and Bic but also acts as a screen for clever and timely projections provided by skilled Video Designer Bryce Riedesel. The theatrical prowess of these set and medium choices superbly compliment each other and raise the level of the production as a whole. Coupled with classy lighting design by Miguel Valderrama and top notch sound effects by Sound Designers Haydn Diaz and Gabriel Garcia, the overall visual and audio experience is nothing short of spectacular.
The scenario certainly does have all the markings of a sci-fi or supernatural set up from the get-go, reminiscent of an episode from The Twilight Zone, however, Krawczyk does not get bogged down in the theory and existentialism of the subject at heart. The language is true to the genre but what is said is sophisticated and clearly going somewhere. The audience cannot help but be entangled and interested throughout, and answers are gradually revealed as the play progresses with good timing and pace which is always satisfying. Also extremely satisfying is the unveiling of the real truth at the end and Krawczyk does not disappoint with his through line remaining justified at all times.
Director Eric Parness had his work cut out for him manipulating his actors about a sparse set that never moved or altered. It seemed to be a challenge at times to draw out a more realistic and justifiable behavior and reaction in some moments where perhaps better choices could have been made.
Sean Phillips as Bral holds a relaxed self-assuredness about himself which is a powerful theatrical skill he masters with ease, making him engaging and highly watchable. Marlene Villafane as Paragon skillfully conveys the complicated situation placed upon her from the powers that be and creditably presents her dilemma of being torn between duty and moral ethics.
Costume Designer Michael Piatkowski has done a superb job of maintaining the mystery and sheathing of the truth before dialogue allows it to be shown, by dressing the characters very neutrally. Bic and Bral are dressed identically in beige-grey attire that could easily lend itself to that of military personal or a blue collar worker – the cleverness lying within the vagueness. Tedium and Paragon are also dressed neutrally with a general attire of brown skirt and jacket and a white laboratory coat.
For all its seemingly existentialistic, sci-fi appearance, The Treatment does not stray away from real human drama and power struggles, providing entertaining angst, hidden agendas, and touching truths we can all relate to. The Treatment may just be the cure you’re looking for.
Photos: Ellis Vizcarra
IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Ave.)
More info: http://www.iatitheater.org
Running time: 85 minutes.