Tony winner on Denver playwright Max Posner: 'I want him to be heard'

Max Posner. Deanna Dunagan. The Treasurer. Photo by John Moore
Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

‘I did it because I believe in Max,’ says Deanna Dunagan, creator of Violet Weston in August: Osage County

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Denver native Max Posner‘s new off-Broadway play The Treasurer closed on Sunday after an extended run, full houses and great critical acclaim. 

Max Posner. The Treasurer. Playwrights HorizonsAnd the 29-year-old Denver School of the Arts grad is the first to admit that all of that was in large part due to the play being directed by David Cromer, presented by New York’s esteemed Playwrights Horizons, and starring Tony Award winner Deanna Dunagan and Peter Friedman, who played Tateh in Broadway’s Ragtime.

But Dunagan, whose life and career are based in Chicago, said on closing weekend there was only one reason she accepted the role: Max Posner.

“It was because I believe in Max, and I wanted to help him get started,” said Dunagan, who previously originated the epic, acidic role of Violet Weston in Tracy LettsAugust: Osage County in both Chicago and on Broadway.

“He is going to be an important playwright in the American theatre, you mark my words,” Dunagan told the DCPA NewsCenter. “I want him to be heard.”

(Pictured above: Peter Friedman and Deanna Dunagan in ‘The Treasurer,’ courtesy Playwrights Horizons.)

The Treasurer, which opened Sept. 22, is a darkly funny portrait of an elderly mother and her aging son. Ida Armstrong, who abandoned her husband and three sons when they were teenagers, is now broke, lonely and facing encroaching dementia in Albany, N.Y. Her 60-something son (who goes without a specific name but lives at a Denver address that matches Posner’s childhood home), is then forced into the unfair and unwanted role of “The Treasurer.”

New York Magazine called The Treasurer “an invaluable new play.” Ben Brantley of The New York Times called it tender and unforgiving. “Mr. Posner has a precocious feeling for the harshness with which people often judge themselves as they approach the midpoint of their lives,” Brantley wrote. “His writing is often effectively double-edged, an amalgam of 21st-century casualness and cadenced lyricism. Mr. Posner has a sharp and original ear for the tension between what is spoken and what is not.” 

Our interview with Max Posner about The Treasurer

Max Posner. The Treasurer. Curious New VoicesAnd to think he started out as a teenager in the inaugural class of young writers in the first Curious New Voices summer playwriting program started by Dee Covington of Curious Theatre Company in 2004. Posner’s play was called Counting to Infinity. And it turns out that the director of that play (Laura Tesman Gillette) and one of his actors (Gary Culig) were at the final Saturday matinee performance of The Treasurer in New York (pictured right).

Posner said of his overall experience with The Treasurer: “It’s a total fantasy realized.” 

The Treasurer also featured Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu, who starred in the DCPA Theatre Company’s The Catch in 2011. Bandhu was also one of the original producers of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening

Posner had his first New York production in 2015 with Judy, which is set in the winter of 2040. Posner called Judy “a subterranean comedy about family life when technology fails and communication breaks down.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Critics were not as kind to Judy. So what did it feel like to be understood and championed by New York critics this time around?

“It was the feeling of not being murdered,” he said with a laugh.

Moving in next to the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre just vacated by The Treasurer is Mankind, written by Robert O’Hara and featuring Ariel Shafir. O’Hara directed just directed a rousing reimagining of Macbeth for the DCPA Theatre Company. Shafir played the title role.   

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Max Posner. The Treasurer. Photo by John Moore.
Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

From the video archive: Our 2015 interview with Max Posner

Watch our video interview with Max Posner from May 2015 in New York City. Video by John Moore.

Selected previous coverage of Denver’s Posner family:
Max Posner’s The Treasurer to be staged at Playwrights Horizons
Denver playwright Max Posner scores first New York production
Jessica Posner’s triumphant tale is a world-changer and a page-turner
Jessica Posner: Changing lives in a hell on Earth
From 2006: Max Posner one of Colorado’s “Can’t Miss Kids”

Max Posner/At a glance
Max Posner’s play Judy premiered Off-Broadway in 2015 (Page 73, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll). Recent productions include Snore (Juilliard, directed by Knud Adams), Sisters on the Ground (Playwrights Horizons Theater School at NYU, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll), and Gun Logistics (Drama League, directed by Knud Adams). He is the recipient of the Helen Merrill Emerging Playwright Award, the Heideman Award from Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, the P73 Fellowship, and two Lecomte du Nouy awards from Lincoln Center. Max is a Sundance Institute Theatre Fellow, a two-time MacDowell Colony Fellow, and was the Writer-In-Residence at Williamstown. He’s an alum of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, Ars Nova’s Playgroup, The Working Farm at Space on Ryder Farm, and I-73. He contributed to John Early’s episode of The Characters (Netflix) and is working on a libretto for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus with composer Ellis Ludwig Leone. Max’s plays have been developed by Playwrights Horizons, Soho Rep, Page 73, Clubbed Thumb, Williamstown, The Atlantic, Ars Nova, The Bushwick Starr, NYTW, American Theater Co., The Juilliard School, and Space on Ryder Farm. He is a frequent volunteer at Manhattan’s 52nd Street Project. He studied writing as an undergrad at Brown, and recently completed a two-year Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellowship at The Juilliard School. Max was born and raised in Denver and lives in Brooklyn. 

David Cromer/At a glance
Recent credits include: Man from Nebraska (Second Stage Theater); The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater Company); The Effect (Barrow Street Theatre); Come Back, Little Sheba (Huntington Theatre); Angels in America (Kansas City Rep); and Our Town at the Almeida Theatre in London. New York Credits include: Women or Nothing at Atlantic Theater Company, Really Really at MCC, The House of Blue Leaves and Brighton Beach Memoirs on Broadway, When the Rain Stops Falling and Nikolai and the Others at Lincoln Center Theater. Also at the Barrow Street Theatre he has directed Tribes, Our Town, and Orson’s Shadow as well as Adding Machine, which was a BST production at the Minetta Lane. Originally from Chicago, his credits there include Sweet Bird of Youth (The Goodman); A Streetcar Named Desire, Picnic, and The Price (Writers Theatre); Cherrywood, Mojo, and The Hot l Baltimore (Mary-Arrchie); The Cider House Rules (co-directed with Marc Grapey at Famous Door); and Angels in America (The Journeymen); among others. For Michael Ira Cromer (1966-2015). 

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