Florian Zeller, the writer of The Father, has been called the world’s most exciting living playwright. Being skeptical of big claims like that is easy. But if Kinetic Theatre Company’s excellent production of his play is anything to go by, there might be something to it.
Translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton and directed for Kinetic by Andrew Paul, The Father is an exploration of the relationship between Andre, a man living with dementia, and his adult daughter, Anne. The play unfolds from Andre’s perspective, playing with time, location, and memory to give the audience a sense of the disorientation and pain he experiences.
Andre, played by Sam Tsoutsouvas, is the only constant in the production. The set changes subtly as the show goes on, plot points and dialogue are repeated and rearranged, and even the other characters are fluid. Although Anne is primarily portrayed by Catherine Gowl, and Pierre, her husband?/boyfriend?/ex? by Darren Eliker, other actors occasionally step into their shoes. Erin Lindsey Krom, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, and Gregory Johnstone show off their versatility by filling a number of roles throughout the show – Krom mostly as Laura, a cheerful home care nurse. The overall effect is to keep the audience guessing and, like Andre, trying to piece together what’s actually happening around him.
The Father runs an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission, not allowing a pause for the audience to take stock. We’re meant to experience everything along with the characters, and they don’t get a break. This may sound like a lot, but it doesn’t feel like it. Andre is, as Anne and Laura often say, very charming. While his frustration sometimes boils over, and his thoughtlessness – some of which he can’t control – can be hurtful to those who love him, in his good moments you can see why they do. Tsoutsouvas, a veteran with Kinetic Theatre and many others, captures the full range of this complex role and keeps the audience totally engaged.
Darren Eliker, Sam Tsoutsouvas, & Catherine Gowl
Gowl, as Anne, has another interesting part to play. As the daughter trying to make sure her father is well cared for, we want to identify with her. But experiencing things as we are from Andre’s perspective, it’s impossible to pin down her plans and motivations entirely. She does a good job of keeping the base of love visible through Anne’s exhaustion and resentment.
One minor issue I noticed is that Tsoutsouvas seemed to have a slightly British accent that none of the other characters shared. Given that the whole play is set in France, it doesn’t really matter what variety of Anglophone accent is used, but the difference was somewhat noticeable.
Scenic Designer Johnmichael Bohach and Carpenter Victoria Homschek also deserve a big callout, as the physical set itself contributes to the experience of Andre’s deteriorating state of mind. Modular components allow the layout and decoration of the flat in which the action takes place to be quickly altered between scenes. Andre claims a deep, lifelong attachment to his home. But can’t… quite… seem to remember how many rooms and chairs there are. It’s an effective touch, mainly because it’s subtle enough that you often don’t notice what’s changed until midway through a scene.
Lisa Ann Goldsmith & Sam Tsoutsouvas
On a personal note, seeing this play was particularly meaningful for me. My grandmother suffered from dementia in the last few years of her life. I saw the effects it had on my parents and the rest of the family, but Zeller’s dramatization of the condition provided a perspective that I don’t think I had fully grasped – what it was like from the other side. For anyone who has been close to someone affected by dementia, it’s an eye opener, and well worth seeing to understand their experience. And for everyone else, it’s just good theater. And it’s not all grim! The play’s subtitle is “A Tragic Farce,” featuring, in the words of the author “detours into comedy and tap dancing.” It’s a tragedy, but an enjoyable one.
The Father runs until September 23 at the New Hazlett Theater. For tickets and more information click here.
Photos by Bea Nyilis and Keith Truax
Categories: Archived Reviews