Eve Ensler's intense drama The Treatment, at the Culture Project, examines the blurry line the U.S. military has drawn between interrogation and torture. The play does not specifically name a war, president, time period, or country, and it does not need to. Instead, it focuses on the mind-set of one soldier, who has forgotten what he is fighting for. He has also discovered violence within himself that he never knew existed, and has come home to a family that can no longer relate to him. The play opens in a green, sterile room with a tormented young veteran fitting this description: a soldier known only as Man (Dylan McDermott) who has just returned from a term overseas, full of inner demons from his job as an interrogator at a detainee camp. His wife sends him to a military psychiatrist, known as Woman (Portia), who speaks with a knowing calm, suggesting that she has spent most of her life counseling trembling young men who desperately "want their brains and families back."
Nothing rattles her, not even the soldier's unpredictable bouts of loud, hysterical anger, lewd sexual overtures, or uncontrollable urges to rattle the blinds and throw heavy metal chairs across the room. Through all of his psychological meltdowns, her eyes never blink, and her posture never collapses.
When the soldier sees that the psychiatrist is as good at her job as he once was at his, he starts to squirm. At the detainee camp, he was the one to initiate silent treatment, hold a gaze without looking away, and fire questions at scared, broken men until they cracked. Watching the psychiatrist use these tricks, he comes to the unnerving realization that now he is the scared and broken one, vulnerable to cracking at any moment.
The psychiatrist's steely expression creates a longing to know more about this strange and immovable woman. The title refers to her treatment of the soldier's nightmares and post-traumatic stress, which at times feel a little extreme, even for the military. Her abrasive nature raises questions about her own intentions toward a man who is in a deeply distraught state.
For a short, intermission-less, 70-minute play, The Treatment manages to hit many unforgettable notes of powerful emotion and disturbing truths. It reminds us that while soldiers are not the ones who start a war, they are the ones who will suffer the most for it. When this soldier says that horrible nightmares prevent him from being able to sleep, the psychiatrist gives him a hard dose of reality, reminding him that he is merely a solider, forced to follow orders, and that the people who gave those orders are sleeping just fine.
Portia and McDermott are fully immersed in their highly intense roles. They bare their characters' souls to the audience, letting everything pour out, often shifting between wild anger and unbearable sadness. Portia has perfected every nuance of a rigid military woman who thrives under pressure and loves rules. McDermott manages to be sympathetic even when he is at his most destructive. He is fully believable as a man who hears constant screaming in his head.
At one point, his nearly comatose character asks the psychiatrist, "Can you hear the loudness?" She answers, "I can feel it." By the end of the play, everyone in the audience will too.