Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Treadwell: Bright and Dark
Allyson Currin's script depicts Treadwell (Melissa Flaim) recounting her life experiences as a way of battling the emotional demons that attacked her throughout her life, portrayed (through Ed Moser's evocative sound design) as a cacophony of voices. Scenic designer Ryan Wineinger places her in an abstract room surrounded by the written word: notebooks, portfolios and clotheslines hung thickly with letters, telegrams, and newspaper clippings.
Because Treadwell is not well known and the play covers a lot of ground, Currin's script sometimes becomes ponderous. Her noteworthy experiences included working for the great Polish actress Helena Modjeska; interviewing Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa; and bringing suit against John Barrymore for attempting to stage a play illegally derived from her work.
Using a variety of voices and postures, Flaim gives an impassioned portrayal of a woman besieged by conflicting influences: whether to be a traditional wife or a trailblazer, determined to take full responsibility for herself and suspicious of people who care for her. Her physically and psychically exhausting portrait takes Treadwell from a difficult childhood, torn between a father she adored and a mother she resented, to her brief careers as a teacher and a vaudeville performer; the ambiguous nature of her marriage to sportswriter William O. McGeehan; her career as a muckraking journalist and outspoken supporter of progressive political causes; her Broadway breakthrough, Machinal, an expressionistic drama from 1928 about a woman who comes to believe that murdering her husband is the only way she can save her own sanity; and other signposts along the way to her death at age 85.
Whether Treadwell: Bright and Dark is completely successful in dramatic terms is questionable, but it's a fine introduction to a neglected figure of American culture.
American Century Theater