Review: ‘The Father’ at The Studio Theatre

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Some plays are more difficult to watch than others; some plays activate your imagination and pull you into their stories whole-body: those plays pull you into the psychological realities they portray.

Kate Eastwood Norris, Ted van Griethuysen, and Caroline Dubberly in The Father. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Father by French Playwright Florian Zeller (translated by Christopher Hampton) is just such a play, and when a stellar ensemble is led by the utterly fabulous Ted van Griethuysen, you’ve got a play that should not be missed.

Also a novelist, Florian Zeller won the celebrated Prix Interallié literary prize in 2004 for his novel La Fascination du Pire (“Fascination of Evil”). He has also won several Moliere Awards, one of which was for The Father in 2012.

Set in Paris, Ted van Griethuysen plays André, the father of the play’s title. André is aging, he lives alone, he’s losing his memory; he’s not, however, losing his intelligence and sense of dignity.

Griethuysen’s performance is a study in both, as both intelligence and dignity face the reality of dysfunction.

Manny Buckley and Kate Eastwood Norris. Photo by Teresa Wood.

It is The Father’s dramatic construction that constitutes the play’s real genius, however. A lot of modern plays use fragmentation and disassociation to convey 21st-century disorientation. The Father works within that convention but in a unique and supremely effective way.

Its dramatic construction takes the father’s point of view, and André’s POV is growing increasingly disoriented, increasingly disassociated, increasingly fragmented.

As a result, we see the world through his eyes: his inability to decode the world becomes our inability to decode the world, with the difference being we understand what’s happening.

Kate Eastwood Norris plays Anne, André’s daughter. Her deeply compassionate portrayal of the daughter who loves both her father and her own life is riveting. We feel for her every agonized decision.

Manny Buckley plays Pierre, Anne’s love interest. Again, The Father does not go for the easy choice, and Buckley gives Pierre the complexity the part deserves. He is both supportive of Anne’s situation but disturbed by its long-term implications.

Caroline Dubberly plays Laura, the nurse who comes in to take care of André. A professional to the core, Dubberly’s portrayal mines the character’s humanity as well.

Finally, Erika Rose and Daniel Harray play the Woman and the Man, giving each an authenticity that hovers somewhere between hallucination and reality.

Daniel Harray and Ted van Griethuysen. Photo by Teresa Wood.

To be sure, David Muse’s direction had a great deal to do with the play’s psychological choreography that this production of The Father displays, as did his production team’s excellent choices.

Set Designer Debra Booth transforms the Metheny Theatre into an excellent representation of affluent Parisian living space, but it’s really what happens to that space during the play that speaks to the set’s inventiveness.

With lighting by Keith Parham, costumes by Wade Laboissonniere, and sound by Ryan Rumery, the production’s scenography works wonderfully to create André’s subjectivity and, then, to surround the audience with the play’s comic dystopia.

As educators well know, training in learning disabilities often includes sessions where teachers are given an opportunity to experience the world from the LD perspective.

The Father, with its fierce combination of tragic and farcical elements, gives theatre-goers that same opportunity. You might be disturbed by the experience, but you’ll love every minute of it.

Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.

The Father plays through June 18, 2017, at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.

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