Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review of "The Father"

One of the joys of theater-going is watching a consummate actor create his craft on-stage.  Frank Langella, a three-time Tony Award winner, is such a performer and he is once again gracing a Broadway production in the drama, The Father.

He portrays Andre, an older man living in a nicely appointed Parisian apartment.  Rarely venturing out, he is experiencing the onset of dementia.  His daughter, Anne, under stress from work and trying to provide in-home care for her father, is understandably frazzled.  Her new boyfriend, Pierre, is supportive to a point.  As the play’s dynamics progress what we think we see on stage comes into question.  Is the man walking into the living room real?  A figment of Andre’s deteriorating mind?  What about the other women entering the scene?  Are they actually present?  Where, exactly, is Andre living—his own place or his daughters?  And where is Anne’s mysteriously absent sister?

Playwright Florian Zeller’s inventive script is intelligent and clever.  At first, The Father appears to be a well-told tale of dementia and its affects on family.  But by delving into the mind of Andre, showing us the world through his crumbling mind, what he sees or may not see, the audience is constantly kept off-balance. This keeps our attention focused on the characters and their actions leading up to the heartbreaking finale.

In his portrayal of Andre, Frank Langella gives the character many different looks and emotional faces.  He can be dignified, jaunty, jarring, a suave charmer, imperious, and childlike.  Another strength of this consummate performance is the shading and subtlety he gives to the portrayal.  The theatrics are muted, which allows for a more convincing portrait of a proud and complicated individual.  Kathryn Erbe, with her soul-searching looks and minimal movements, astutely and completely conveys the grief and suffering Anne is undergoing.  She is the more understated ying to Langella’s flamboyant yang.  The other actors in the production—Brian Avers, Charles Borland, Hannah Cabell, and Kathleen McNenny--are all first-rate in their supporting roles.

Scenic designer Scott Pask has crafted a handsome Paris flat which, between scenes, slowly deconstructs, paralleling the disorientation Andre is undergoing. 

Director Doug Hughes smartly tones down the histrionics of the actors, focusing on each character’s development and singularities.  He skillfully brings a nuanced and steady rhythm to the production that allows the turmoil to unfold in an unhurried, but urgent manner.

The Father, an engrossing and gripping drama.

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