The Father makes it’s American premier at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre with three-time Tony award winner Frank Langella returning to the stage—and he stole the show.
Directed by Doug Hughes, The Father takes a look into the mind of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s/memory loss. A popular theme this year, The Father took a unique approach to this brand of play. Hughes and scenic designer Scott Pask chronicled our main character, André’s, loss of memory with at first subtle changes to the stage—a missing book, a shifted chair; and then more dramatic—missing set pieces, rooms and whole shelves bare. Lighting designer Donald Holder also expressed the juxtaposition of André’s perception of time with angle changes of sunlight and street lamps.
The play begins with an exchange between Anne (Kathryn Erbe) and André (Frank Langella) in which we are introduced to André’s consistent repetition of sentences and loss of his watch and Anne’s exasperation and undying love for her father. André’s refusal to accept that he may be incorrect while his more lucid and caring daughter, Anne has had it right the whole time is a common theme throughout the play.
The rest of the production spans different timeframes in André’s life and by the audience’s account, in no uncertain order. We are left just as confused as André by the end and the journey itself is an interesting one. André is constantly afraid that his daughter will leave him alone in Paris to pursue her love interest in London, or did she already leave?
Langella interprets and expresses André’s character with the precision of an actor of his stature. Always taking up the whole stage, Langella brings into his performance a depth that infects other cast members. Easily the beacon of the show, he brings anger, confusion and the fear of being unable to properly perceive reality to the audience.
You are left to interpret whether or not Anne (Kathryn Erbe) quickly came to the end of her patience with her father—who has scared away countless nurses and refuses to allow her to enjoy her life while pining away at her long lost sister, or if she endured as long as we were left to perceive. Erbe captures this inner tumult easily, becoming a relatable character during Langella’s frustration-laden outbursts.
Anne’s husband, Pierre (or was it Antione?) is played by Brian Avers. At a loss for his second-class seat in his marriage with Anne, Avers takes us on the journey leading to the end of his love and rise of his hatred toward André’s condition. Avers’ anger is measured, consistent and believable.
André’s favored nurse, Laura (Hannah Cabell) had great chemistry with Langella. Reminding him of his lost daughter, Elise, Cabell brings a charming air out of Langella that spans the stage. Although she could also be Kathleen McNenny, yet another nurse of André’s while his doctor (Charles Borland) could easily be Pierre, or Antione.
The Father brings to light the recent popularity of discussing mental illness. Dark and at times humorous, the play was a long 90 minutes. While a great mental exercise to follow, Langella’s journey out of his flat and into a hospital was not perfectly riveting. However, seeing Langella light up the stage was well worth the journey.
Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus