THE FATHER by French playwright Florian Zeller (translated by Christopher Hampton) is a well thought out, clever and heart wrenching examination of what it is to go through the process of trying to understand what is going on in the mind of a person attempting to continue living a life that is slowly being stripped away from them from that dreaded disease dementia.
It is eye opening. And sometimes confusing. THE FATHER is written as seen through the mind of Andre – a gentleman living alone in a well-appointed Parisian flat (or is it his daughter’s flat that he shares with her and her husband?) who has the onset of the disease – believing that he can take care of himself while forgetting where he has put his watch and alienating three in a row hired nurses to tend to his needs.
The amazing Frank Langella is Andre. Living and breathing every moment of Andre’s slowing increasing tortured life. Looking fit and spry. Being charming and inquisitive. And amusing. But he can be volatile and nasty and confused and obsessive and frustrated and angry from moment to moment. It is a bravura performance that should not be missed.
It’s complicated. Playwright Zeller presents the situation in a series of short vignettes. At the blackout of each scene the proscenium flashes lights that increase in intensity throughout – indicating the short circuitry of Andre’s mind – his inability to think clearly. It might be annoying to some. Just think what Andre is going through.
In addition pieces of furniture from the elegant set by Scott Pask are removed from each new scene. Stripped from Andre’s memory.
There are no answers supplied. How can there be answers when there aren’t any to be had? We just see the unavoidable downward spiral of a once brilliant man.
His frustrated daughter Anne (Kathryn Erbe – who might learn more about projecting her voice from Mr. Langella) is thinking to put him in a nursing home as she is moving to London with her husband Pierre (Brian Avers) or are they?
Andre resists and accepts another nurse Laura (Hannah Cabell) whom he charms even performing a tap dance for her (he was a dancer or was he an engineer?) As Andre’s mind slips deeper into obscurity we are even more confused as Man (Charles Borland) and Woman (Kathleen McNenny) arrive as other characters that are essentially props used by the playwright to emphasize Andre’s sad predicament – illustrating his growing confusion. It will lead you to tears.
It’s a living nightmare. Losing your mind. Your identity. Your belongings. Your life. Slowly. Unknowingly. Be grateful that it isn’t you and be patient with those afflicted.
A remarkable Mr. Langella, in full control of his faculties, is giving Andre the respect that he deserves. His performance leaves the other actors in its wake. Excellently directed by Doug Hughes. Highly recommended. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre – Manhattan Theatre Club. 90 minutes – no intermission. Through June 12, 2016
Photos: Joan Marcus
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