Florian Zeller’s “Le Pére,” or “The Father,” translated to English by Christopher Hampton, subjects its audience to the fractured cacophony that remains of aging father André’s memories, forcing them to confront the distortion and disruption that dementia inflicts upon its sufferers. Delving into themes of reality, paranoia, splintered familial relationships, trauma, and elder abuse, “The Father” packs a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching punch.
Despite the plot’s heaviness, Alfred Molina’s performance as André proves that there is still humor to be found in the darkest of situations. Molina’s André both charms, spinning fantastical yarns to replace stories that he no longer remembers, and devastates in moments of vulnerability. His performance raises the bar for his ensemble members, and Sue Cremin’s Anne, André’s daughter, most notably struggles to hit the same stride. To me, this especially stood out in scenes in which she interacted with Molina and Michael Manuel, who plays Anne’s beau Pierre, who both possess resonant, powerful voices. In contrast, Cremin sounded like she had to shout constantly to vocally match her ensemble members, which sometimes undermined her many emotionally-charged scenes. Overall, the cast succeeds in immersing the audience in the unsettling chaos of André’s mind.
The set “loses its leaves” just as André’s memories do, starting out as a beautifully furnished apartment replete with homey touches, and David Meyer’s masterful design allows for an impactful and drastic transformation as the play unfolds. The sound design – music, ominous ticking, and jarring effects – never failed to startle, though I feel that a warning needed to be issued in case any audience members had heart conditions.
“The Father” brings to light several often under-discussed yet universal experiences, not the least of which is the strain that age and deteriorating physical and mental health incurs to not only our elders but those who care for them, blood relatives and professional caretakers alike. The Pasadena Playhouse’s run of “The Father” ends March 1, so I highly recommend booking tickets sooner rather than later.
39 S. El Molino Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91101