Ken Cheeseman says he knows why he was cast in “The Treasurer,” which begin performances Friday at the Lyric Stage Company.
“I’m known for riding my bike everywhere,” he says, “and the son in the play often narrates the story before, during, or after his bike rides in Denver.”
But Cheeseman is being more than a little modest. The accomplished actor, who trained at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, has worked off-Broadway, on nearly every stage in the Boston area, and in lots of TV and films.
Max Posner’s “The Treasurer” chronicles a son’s fraught relationship with his aging mother, Ida, a woman who left her family to marry a prominent businessman but now finds herself widowed and alone. As her son steps up to manage his mother’s finances, his sense of responsibility collides with his resentment of her abandonment of him and his brothers.
“So many people have either gone through this experience of caring for an aging parent, or they will go through it,” says Cheeseman, “we can’t help but recognize the dilemmas in the experience.”
In this case, his character — identified in the play as the Son — is uncomfortable in his own skin, says Cheeseman. “He says there’s a level of hell reserved for sons who don’t love their mothers enough, and that guilt, combined with some of Ida’s outrageously self-centered behavior, creates the tension in the play.”
“None of these characters stepped out of Norman Rockwell paintings,” says Cheryl McMahon, who plays Ida. “We often find the people we are trying to help aren’t perfect.”
Ida, says McMahon, is a woman driven to maintain a certain image. She’s well-dressed, well-coiffed, and proud of the fact that she’s seen the world, even if that meant she left broken pieces in her wake.
“She spends a lot of time covering up her doubts and insecurities," says McMahon, “and her son sees right through it.”
Posner’s script, says McMahon, captures the undercurrent of anxiety in the play, as the two individuals cling to roles that no longer fit them.
“Our director, Rebecca Bradshaw, is guiding us through moments when the playwright insists on really long silences, and creating connections when conversations only happen over the phone,” McMahon says.
There’s something very poignant about the way Posner has structured the script, says Cheeseman.
“It’s formatted almost like a poem,” he says. “The rhythms are really interesting, and it helps to have experience with Shakespeare, so you know how to scan a line and pay attention to punctuation.”
But Cheeseman says he’s also realizing that as the Son struggles with his relationship with his mother, he is wondering about his relationship with his own son.
“It follows a guy who, like every human being, recognizes that it’s impossible to love enough.”
Short plays by women of color at Gloucester
Director, actor, and playwright Jacqui Parker has long advocated for a diversity of voices on Boston stages. For many years, her Our Place Theatre Project produced an annual African American Theater Festival that introduced audiences to new playwrights and performers. On Feb. 28-29, Parker steps outside the city limits to Gloucester Stage Company to present “Broken, Healed and Holding On,” a collection of six short plays by women of color affiliated with Our Place Theatre Project.
“The plays all have a mixture of humor and heartbreak,” says Parker, “but they offer a different perspective on race, religion, and struggles we have all experienced.”
Talaya Freeman, Candis Hilton, Stephanie Mason Lee, Thelma Pierce, Debbie A. Sage, and Abria Smith explore stories of dancing at important celebrations; living up to family expectations; the burden of family secrets; confronting our demons; political turmoil seen through the lens of magical realism; and a “perfect couple” weighed down by their past.
“Several of these women participated in Our Place playwriting workshops,” says Parker. “I was blown away by the characters and situations they were exploring. These playwrights are social workers, teachers, mothers, partners, and bring all of their experiences into the world of their plays.”
Many of the playwrights will also perform in their plays, which will all be directed by Parker. Although all will be fully produced, Parker says the emphasis will be on the storytelling, with simple sets and props. Gloucester Stage, she says, has been a great partner, encouraging the development of the short plays and providing opportunities for Parker to present her own work and that of others.
Gloucester Stage artistic director "Bob Walsh saw my work when I was the artist-in-residence at Hibernian Hall [in Roxbury] a few years ago, and invited me to present some of my work at Gloucester Stage,” she says.
That led to Parker directing “The Agitators” at Gloucester Stage in 2018, followed by Parker’s play, “Phillis Wheatley” in 2019 and now “Broken, Healed and Holding On.”
“It’s been great for us to get outside Boston,” Parker says. “We’ve been excited by the audience responses in Gloucester already, and look forward to this production. I’m always grateful to see my own work onstage, but I really enjoy spreading the love.” (Tickets $25, www.gloucesterstage.com)
At Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston, Feb. 21-March 22. Tickets $55-$75, 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.