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Getting 'The Treatment,' detainee style


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Sep. 13--Eve Ensler, known internationally as the woman who gave sociopolitical monologues to vaginas, takes on torture and the military in a two-character encounter called "The Treatment." The 80-minute drama, which kicked off the Culture Project's citywide political-arts festival last night, attempts to explore parallels between a military shrink's treatment of a damaged veteran and the soldier's brutal interrogation of detainees.

Considering the profound immediacy of the topic, it seems churlish to dwell on phony theatrics. Unlike the chilling torture dramas of Harold Pinter, however, this one falls back on easy psychology and a situation that feels like an acting exercise from the first overwrought scene.

Dylan McDermott, son of Ensler's ex-husband and a frequent interpreter of her work, emotes energetically against his image of the dashing lawyer in seven TV seasons of "The Practice." The soldier, simply called Man, is a bit of a thug, a pumped-up mess of collateral damage who trembles and hears noise in his head and pounds his fist into furniture.

He prowls his female psychologist's institutional office (designed by Richard Hoover) with a handsome stubble and tight T-shirts. Once, he mysteriously shows up there in the middle of the night in flannel pajama bottoms with puppies on them. McDermott brings an almost endearing sense of determination to the histrionics. By the time he unburdens himself with the inevitable horrible confession, we feel bad that we couldn't care.

His therapist, played by Portia, is a dedicated but uptight black officer who, in an almost hallucinatory moment, claims she never takes off her uniform. This may be meant metaphorically, but, in fact, she doesn't.

Her job, like the soldier's job in an unnamed country, is to "soften up" detainees in order to get information. She probes, she frightens him in dark rooms, she wins his trust -- by almost any means necessary.

Both of these people joined the military because they believe in rules. Ensler's point -- an important one -- is that the rules have changed and Americans don't know how it happened.

As directed by Leigh Silverman ("Well"), the performances seldom get beyond actorly display to reach the shattering reality of their words.

WHEN & WHERE

The Impact Festival -- intriguingly subtitled "Where Culture & Politics Collide" -- continues around town through Oct. 22 with an ambitious variety of plays, films, concerts, exhibits and debates. The series includes "Speak Truth to Power," Ariel Dorfman's adaptation of Kerry Kennedy's book of interviews with human-rights activists, Sundays at 7, Mondays at 8 at the Culture Project; an Oct. 7 concert at Town Hall called "Protest! The Concert to Close Guantanamo" and appearances by Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Marisa Tomei and others; impact festival.org.

THE TREATMENT. By Eve Ensler, directed by Leigh Silverman. Impact Festival, Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St., through Oct. 22.

Tickets $25 and $55.

Call 212-253-7017.

Seen at Friday preview.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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