Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Father ***

The universally extravagant praise from across the pond for French playwright Florian Zeller’s unnerving portrait of a proud man’s descent into dementia set my expectations a bit too high. That is not to say that this Manhattan Theater Club production starring the magnificent Frank Langella is not worth seeing. Quite the contrary. I just felt that his performance was better than the material. Zeller cleverly presents things from the confused point of view of the person with dementia. Andre (Langella), a retired engineer, has once again driven away a caregiver that his daughter Anne (a fine Kathryn Erbe) has hired to help him cope with his increasingly confused state. The audience is forced to feel Andre’s disorientation as we are presented with conflicting sets of facts and even different actors playing the same roles. Anne is either divorced, married to Pierre (Brian Avers) or moving to London with her new lover. Laura (Hannah Cabell), a prospective caregiver, reminds Andre of his mysteriously absent daughter Elise whom he always favored over Anne. Charles Borland (Man) and Kathleen McNenny (Woman) round out the good cast. There’s more than a touch of Pinter lurking here. Even Scott Pask’s set reflects Andre’s confusion as objects disappear from the elegant Parisian apartment between scenes. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are fine. Doug Hughes’s direction is assured. Multiple short scenes are punctuated by flashing lights around the proscenium and loud strings, which becomes tiresome rather quickly. Go for the bravura performance by Langella and you won’t be disappointed. The audience reaction varied widely. The man next to me abruptly left midway through the play. The woman behind me was weeping softly. Running time: 90 minutes; no intermission.

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