Brilliant Journey Through Flawed Memories
By Lauren Yarger
That is the word that kept coming to mind with every scene and particularly with regard to Frank Langella’s gripping performance as The Father, a play by Moliere-winning playwright Florian Zeller getting a Broadway run at Manhattan Theatre Club.
In this translation by Christopher Hampton, Langella is André, an aging man living in Paris with his unmarried daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe). Or is he living with Anne and her husband, Pierre (Brian Avers). Or is Pierre really some other man (Charles Borland)?
Perhaps his personal care assistant Laura (Hannah Cabell) can help him remember and find his watch which always seems to be missing. But wait, is Laura really his daughter? Then who is that other woman (Kathleen McNenny)?
Poor André can’t seem to figure it out – or ever make it out of his pajamas (costumes are designed by Catherine Zuber) and time is passing too quickly – where is his watch? Is he at home or in a medical care facility? Scott Pask’s scenic design offers subtle changes between scenes to keep him – and us guessing.
The confusion in André’s mind is palpable and because we aren’t sure what’s real either, we fully understand his anxiety. Langella finds all of his character’s emotions and brings us on the roller coaster ride with him. In the blink of an eye -- mine often were moist with tears -- he takes us from a crescendo of laughter into a plunge of despair and cruelty.
Did his situation cause Anne to postpone plans to start a new life with the man she loves in London? Has he blocked guilt he might have felt about that – and about never disguising the fact that he preferred his other daughter, now deceased, to Anne? Or are these thoughts being superimposed on his own by a resentful Anne? Did he have a bad experience with Pierre – or some other man in her life – that caused him to interfere in their relationship? Or are the memories of an unkind man attached to Anne fabrications of a mind increasingly unable to distinguish fantasy from reality or to remember anything clearly?
Zeller’s decision to make the play’s point of view André’s confused mind is well, brilliant, as I said, and so is the direction by Doug Hughes.
Adding to the tension is excellent Lighting Design by Donald Holder as pulses of light dance around the proscenium evoking the image of impulses in André’s ’s brain searching for the right connection. Original Music and Sound Design by Fitz Patton, and even some Illusion Consulting by Jim Steinmeyer also create atmosphere.
It’s tense, it’s difficult to sit through and it’s fascinating. Don’t miss it.
The Father plays through June 11 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $70-$150; thefatherbroadway.com; (212) 239-6200.