Not being able to trust one’s senses is disorienting.
It could be said that Florian Zeller’s new play, The Father, at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through June 12th, is about a man whose disorientation is the reason he can’t trust his senses.
Andre (Frank Langella) rages against his diminishing capacities. He recalls and imagines things that have not happened and cannot remember those that have.
Zeller’s conceit is to immerse the viewer in Andre’s dissonances. Characters, whom we may not recognize, appear, furniture and paintings disappear. (The elegant set is by Scott Pask.)
Strobe lights flicker between scenes. (Jim Steinmeyer is the illusion consultant and Donald Holder is responsible for the lighting and its effects.) Christopher Hampton’s translation makes excellent use of the ellipses, leaving thoughts suggested and unsaid.
Andre bullies his daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe) and bellows at home aides. He can be charming and flirtatious, as he is with one aide, Laura (Hannah Cabell), to whom he takes a liking. Andre is enfeebled by his growing dementia, but his leonine command is not weakened. There is no sentimentality in The Father, a clear-eyed portrait of a man accustomed to having his way as he loses his grip.
Anne knows that her father is a difficult man, and while she is saddened by the state he’s in, she is also tense and angry. Erbe conveys these emotions with complete equanimity. Andre’s collapse is watched over by Anne, her boyfriend Pierre (Brian Avers), an unnamed Man (Charles Borland) and Woman (Kathleen McNenny). Most of the people surrounding and supporting Andre are calm against the storm of his tantrums.
The Father is a very good play, but Langella’s performance makes it a great one. In one moment, his Andre is endearing, in the next unsettled, then intimidating. Andre, likely projecting his own tendency to browbeat, feels menaced by Pierre and by the Man.
Doug Hughes has directed this flawless cast so that we, the audience, internalize the emotions that Andre feels in The Father. Langella’s striking portrayal could so easily slip into overwrought melodrama, but Langella keeps Andre genuine and real.
Langella may be due for another Tony for this strong sinuous performance. Don’t let the strength of this central character distract from the excellent cast assembled here.
To learn more about Florian Zeller’s The Father, visit thefatherbroadway.com/