Playwright's Perspective: The Treasurer
By Max Posner, Playwright
Before our final workshop of The Treasurer, I board a bus to visit my grandmother. I’ve been readying the play for production, but she does not know it exists. Late at night, toiling over her favorite phrases, a fact starts bobbing:
I’ve given much more time to this play than to her.
I’ve spent her last cogent years on it.
I know I will fail, but I’m on the bus to reverse this fact. I will spend the day with her. I’ve made no other plans. I will tell her about the play. We will see how far we get.
I should have come sooner and more often, but there are reasons for my negligence. I was raised 2,000 miles from her. She always felt she was an inadequate mother. My father feels he is a defective son. I was born with permission to be a bad grandson. Guilt is hereditary.
I enter the assisted living facility, approach the reception desk, sign in. The receptionist tells me her room number. I wander through the Memory Support Neighborhood, which is not a neighborhood but a hallway. The name of each resident decorates their door. It’s like a freshman dorm, only here the carpet is laced with fading flowers.
I reach Room 121. I knock. I wait.
It is unlawful to barge into a person’s home unannounced. It feels particularly criminal in my case, as I’m already in the midst of a largescale violation of her privacy, protected only by the vague hope that we are not punishable for our art.
I knock a few more times. I wait a few minutes. I decide to open the door.
She lies asleep on her bed, fully clothed. Nana, I say. She doesn’t stir. I say it louder. She’s sleeping harder than I’ve seen a person sleep. I approach her body. I stop, unsure of what comes next. I don’t touch her. I exit.
Then, I repeat the entire process. The knocking. The waiting. The entering. The looking at her sleeping body. The chanting of the word Nana. But, again, nothing.
It is unlawful to barge into a person's home unannounced.
In order to wake her, I will need to touch her. I bring my fingers to her calf. She gasps, spasms, wakes in terror. I tell her who I am, but it doesn’t quite register. She thinks I’m here to begin her unwanted physical therapy. I tell her I’ll return in a few minutes.
I enlist a staff member to enter with me and provide context. I sit on a chair beside her bed. We begin to chat, still strangers, but warm now, aware of a genetic connection. I tell her I’m a playwright. She asks if anyone is taking my plays. I tell her they’re starting to.
I ask about her life, her dogs, her jobs, her husbands. She doesn’t remember them. Very recently she gave into the dementia and stopped playing along. I’ve been thinking about you so much, I say. She encourages me to have fun with my job. It’s an unpredictable thing, I tell her, it’s not like being a doctor. It’s not like anything, she says.
Then she begins repeating: well, thanks for coming by, it’s so nice of you to visit, thanks for taking the time to come by, I hope you have a wonderful day. I delay and delay, and then take the hint, say goodbye, and leave. I look at my phone. Our visit lasted only seven minutes. I knew I would fail, but I failed more than I knew.
As I exit, I hear the strumming of music from down the hall. The neighborhood is having a music circle. I rush back to her room. I ask her to take me to the music. Confused, she agrees. She is not thrilled to walk down this very long hallway, her knee hurts. She’d rather sit in the chair outside her door. But, she walks, slowly. I hold her arm. The walk lasts five minutes. The music is getting louder and louder, I say. Because we’re getting closer, she says.
Her neighbors are gathered, vigorously shaking their shakers, beaming at the music therapist who is halfway through “O Susannah.” My Nana tells everyone how beautiful they sound. I record this. I don’t tell her I’m recording.