The Father: Unforgettable (Hopefully)
Frank Langella has returned to Broadway this season to headline the superb new play that has been winning awards all over Europe. This is a harrowing and honest portrayal of the terrible effects of Alzheimer’s, not just on the man, but also on the family that surrounds him. This deeply upsetting and heart-breaking play will surely devastate us all, but especially those who have watched a loved one slide slowly down into the depths of a lost identity. We are given the strange gift of inhabiting the slow disintegration and confusion that only the one suffering would know, and only a caregiver can observe, but with no ability to understand.
Not to be confused with the 1887 Strindberg play of the same name (that will be seen at Brooklyn’s The Theatre for a New Audience starting April 30th in repertory with A Doll’s House), The Father is a translation by Christopher Hampton of the 2012 French play, Le Père by Florian Zeller which won the Moliere award for Best Play in 2014, and made into a 2015 film named Floride. The English translation, after first being staged in Bath, England, transferred to the West End and won the coveted Olivier Award a few weeks ago for its star, Kenneth Cranham, and garnered numerous other nominations for the acclaimed production. And what a magnificent vehicle for Langella to bring to us at the MTC Friedman Theatre. I’m sure the Tony Award nominating community will lavish the same accolades on this production and its star.
That being said, I hesitate to say much about this play other then it being a full throttle exploration and study of a man’s descent into full blown Alzheimer’s. It’s a smart and powerful piece of writing that is both surprisingly funny at times and deeply moving. Langella does a masterful job with this complex and unique role, holding back nothing, and giving it his all. Holding court center stage, we feel his growing panic and confusion as things and people alter and disappear from one moment to the next, leaving us as perplexed as he. This isn’t your typical Alzheimer story. The rest of the cast do a wonderful job assisting him in the telling of this man’s experience and journey. Some produce stronger and more effective characters then others (I’m wishing Kathryn Erbe as the caring daughter, Anne was a bit stronger and more defined) but to get into the details would do a disservice to the intricacy and surprising quality of this play. So I will say very little else.
This MTC production is beautifully crafted, designed with great attention to detail and meaning by Scott Pask. The set changes within the 90 minute one act play are smart, clean, and experiential (you’ll know what I mean once you see this play), and the direction of this cast by Doug Hughes is perfection. This play reminds me of some of the qualities of last year’s Tony Award winning Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and MTC’s stellar Constellations in its unique structure and sense of purpose. I know this review sounds almost annoyingly vague and without detail, but I am doing this purposefully, because the experience of this hauntingly structured play must be protected, so the depth and the brilliance can be felt as deeply as it is intended. Unforgettable I must say, and I hope we all will remember it.