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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre


  Frank Langella and Kathryn Erbe/ Ph: Joan Marcus

André is confused. Moments ago, his daughter Anne brought home a chicken for dinner and gave it to her husband. But now Anne insists that there is no chicken. Not only that, she and her husband got divorced years ago.

The audience can never be sure what’s going, where we are or who everyone is in The Father, a jarring and intense French drama by Florian Zeller (translated into English by Christopher Hampton) that is told from the perspective of an 80-year-old man suffering from severe dementia. It is not to be confused with August Strindberg’s drama of the same name, which coincidentally is about to be revived Off-Broadway by Theatre for a New Audience.

After receiving acclaim in London, Manhattan Theatre Club is producing The Father on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with 78-year-old Frank Langella in the lead. This marks the first play by Zeller (who is also a novelist) to be produced in New York. The Father won acclaim in France and then in London in a production directed by James Macdonald.

André, a retired engineer, is first seen looking comfortable in his well-furnished Paris flat. But as the scenes progress, and as he is confronted with a baffling environment and contradictory information, he becomes increasingly unpredictable, shaken up and helpless. In one especially jarring moment, he is physically abused by his daughter’s lover. He also reacts jokingly at times to his situation, telling a woman hired to be his caretaker that he used to be a professional tap-dancer. Out of nowhere, he can be witty and charming, but he can pull it off for only so long.

Doug Hughes’ focused production is built around a physically and emotionally vigorous performance from Langella that brings to mind King Lear’s extreme fall from security into chaos. (Hughes previously directed Langella in the Roundabout revival of A Man for All Seasons.) In between scenes, lights flicker wildly along the proscenium arches, as if to represent André’s scattershot memory. (The lighting design is by Donald Holder.) Bits and pieces of Scott Pask’s set also disappear little by little, reflecting how André fails to notice that he is being relocated from place to place. Kathryn Erbe effectively expresses Anne’s hope to take care of her father and the burden that his illness has placed upon her life.

The Father is not an enjoyable play by any stretch of the imagination. It leaves you feeling roughed up and exposed. The underlying premises of seeing the world through André’s eyes also wears off in potency as the 90-minute drama moves along, making it feel like a one-gimmick stunt. Nevertheless, it is a culturally important piece that forces the audience to identify with a dementia victim. It should be mandatory viewing for anyone who knows someone suffering from the condition. 


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