Review: ‘The Father’ at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Frank Langella and the cast of "The Father"

By Jonathan Spira on 13 May 2016
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The decline begins slowly, indeed in many cases it is imperceptible for the first few years. It starts with forgetfulness, misplaced items, forgotten names. Then come changes in mood and personality, problems with recalling words, and asking for or repeating the same information over and over.

In my father’s case, I called it “The Great Unwinding.”   For him, it took about ten years. For André, a retired Parisian gentleman played masterfully by Frank Langella in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of “The Father,” it takes roughly 90 minutes, the run-time of the play (performed without intermission), for his mind to unravel.

From the start, the playwright and Mr. Langella bring the audience into André’s declining mind. The confusion he experiences about his absent daughter becomes our confusion, his lost watch becomes our lost watch. His decline is our decline, his cover-ups (something Alzheimer’s patients become masters at) are ours as well. We, the audience, experience the disease.


Mr. Langella shifts through vignettes in André’s decline masterfully, his sonorous baritone, facial expressions, and small gestures make clear the freefall that is taking place in front of our eyes. Kathryn Erbe holds her own as Anne, the daughter who, depending on which of André’s alternate version of reality we accept, is either moving to London to pursue her own happiness after falling in love with an Englishman or sacrificing her own marriage with Pierre (played by Brian Avers) to care for her ailing father.

As we become acquainted with André, he makes it known that he is firmly convinced that he’s still living in his own apartment, despite the fact that he and the real Anne came to a “joint decision” for him to move into her guestroom, something her husband has clearly come to resent.

He is a nattily attired old man, seemingly content in retirement from his job as an engineer, or was it as a tap dancer, and there is little evidence that André is embarking on a journey, one that is bleak and stark, as his mind descends into darkness and loneliness. Time is his anchor, his cherished wristwatch has come to represent the only thing he can hang on to. He’s always had two timepieces, one on his wrist, one in his head. The fact that he misplaces time, in the guise of his watch, rather frequently clues us in as to what is to come.

Click here to continue to Page 2The Train Wreck Known as “Alzheimer’s”

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