Monday, April 25, 2016

Frank Langella stars in Broadway's 'The Father'

So often when I leave the theatre I ask myself, Why? Why did the playwright write this play, and even more, Why did this company choose to produce it? I asked those questions yesterday as I left the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Florian Zeller’s The Father at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

I also wondered why Christopher Hampton would translate from French this depressing play about a man’s decent into old age and senility. And why three-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella chose to play him.

I admit to a bias against the subject. My mother hadn’t known me for years before she died and I had an uncle who was so distressed about his escalating memory loss that he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, abruptly ending his life as well as his memory. I avoid books, movies and plays about this topic whenever possible.

For most of the 90-minute play, directed by Doug Hughes, we flash from scene to scene with ever-shifting characters and facts as Andre (Langella) tries to make sense of his world. Is he living in his Paris apartment or that of his daughter, Ann, and her husband? Or is his daughter (Kathryn Erle, in photo with Langella) divorced and alone? Or ready to move to London to be with an Englishman she has met?

We really do flash from scene to scene because each transition is marked by blinding lights bordering the stage that are shot into our eyes, followed by blackouts. (Lighting by Donald Holder.)

The device of the confusing scenes works like an absurdist play in which nothing is as it seems, which is fitting for a play about losing one’s grasp on reality. Zeller has describe it as “tragic farce.” I could have gone along with that, although it didn’t involve or interest me, but the final scene in which Andre is reduced to sobbing on the floor of a nursing home in his nursing’s arms while crying for his Mommy was over-the-top. Depressing turned into dreary, which is worse because it left me with disgust at the waste of time and talent.

Scott Pask’s set looks like an employee rest area in a middle-management firm, bland and boring. It’s functional, though, for letting items be removed or added as Andre’s mind grows more confused.

Langella does a good job of portraying that confusion, which isn’t surprising. It’s too bad he doesn’t have a better play for his talents.

The cast also includes Brian Avers, Charles Borland, Hannah Cabell and Kathleen McNenny.

The Father was well received in its runs in France and England. I suppose looking at the world through the eyes of the demented is dramatic, but that wasn't enough to compel or move me. Especially with that cheap, melodramatic ending.

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