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

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After seeing the play twice, first with an understudy, Anthony Newfield, as André and a week later with Langella, I have to wonder why this wasn’t a one-man show as opposed to faithfully copying every detail of the original, including French names such as Olivier and Martine which are far from commonplace in English and are distracting. The book by French playwright Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, is clinical and distant, the other cast members are mere bystanders as the train wreck of Alzheimer’s proceeds without any soul or regard for the effect on the patient or those around him. The only emotions – powerful ones at that – come from Mr. Langella.

A second “Anne” (played by Kathleen McNenny), possibly existing only in André’s imagination, as well as the caregiver Laura (played by Hannah Cabell) who resembles the absent daughter, and the nurse in the nursing home, Martine (again, by McNenny), are reasonably sympathetic. However, the two other men (Avers and Charles Borland as “Man”) give a wooden and poor performance that temporarily steers the play into mediocre territory and struck me as tone deaf, bringing into question why they – or any other cast members – were there at all. Ditto the blinding flashes of light, meant to somehow shock us into the next alternate reality while more and more of the set disappears before our eyes, in parallel with André’s mind.

The understudy takes a bow

The understudy takes a bow

“I’m losing all my things,” André says, after misplacing his watch for the umpteenth time. “If this goes on once again, I’ll be naked, stark naked,” words so prophetic and uttered in a manner that sent a chill down many a theater-goer’s back.

Zeller unquestionably places us inside André’s mind and allows us to share in his rampant confusion. In the end we are left with the raw emotional energy released by Mr. Langella as his great unwinding takes place and that is more than enough.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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