To witness the renowned actor of stage and screen, Albert Molina, persuasively morph from an engaging, witty patriarch to a disorganized forgetful dependent is both captivating and chilling.
Now at the Pasadena Playhouse the production of Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” in just an hour and a half with no intermission, exposes the curse of dementia, as Molina as the character of Andre struggles with a fading memory and an exasperated household. The domestic dialogue rings true and the family interaction all too familiar, propelled no doubt by a smooth translation by Christopher Hampton from the French, for which several years ago it won the Moliere Award as France’s best play and later was a hot ticket in New York.
All appears normal as the play opens in a pale, bourgeois, booklined Paris apartment where Andre banters with a daughter, Anne, played sympathetically by Sue Cremin. The only off note is a missing watch; was it stolen or simply misplaced? And what is this about Anne moving to London and Andre getting a new caretaker, having chased off the last with a curtain rod?
So much for reality. Then in a progression of sharp, fitful scenes each ending in a blackout the play progresses into a thickening fog of confusion as Andre, now out of his sport jacket and slacks and into rumpled pajamas, begins forgetting who is who, remembering the past, avoiding the present, and fearing the future where looming is the dreaded stark nursing home. It is an agonizing descent into dementia.
How the affliction goes from bad to worse is, of course, the essence of the plot and drives the performances. Molina increasingly affecting and a supporting cast in varying roles and emotions effective. They are adeptly directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Molina is a seasoned, skilled performer who exudes a subtle confidence whether stage center, expounding, or behind an archway, listening. His histrionics are all too recognizable, right down to the collapsing, bent posture and a trembling hand.
The strength of this play and Molina’s acting is that you get into Andre’s head, see what he sees, and also doesn’t see, his small world falling away and being lost forever, while frustrating and alienating those around him, prompting a shock of senior abuse. Even the set becoming increasingly bare and the fading lighting reflects the decline. Overwhelming all is Andre’s dementia. It is relentless, inexorably worsening, because tragically on stage, as sorrowfully in life, there is no cure. It doesn’t ever improve. The portrait The Father offers frankly can be frightening.
The Father | Pasadena Playhouse | thru Mar 1
Sam Hall Kaplan is a cultural critic who in a maverick past has written for the NY Times, LA Times and Reuters. Books include The Dream Deferred and L.A. Lost and Found. His love of theater dates to his off-Broadway youth and being a gofer to the legendary Brooks Atkinson.
photo credit: jenny graham