The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
The Father

So, if I understand correctly, you're leaving me. Is that it? You're abandoning me...What's going to become of me?
— André to his harried daughter Anne.
The Father
Frank Langella and Kathryn Erbe (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Everybody misplaces things now and then. However, given the scary statistics about Altzheimer's, eyeglasses or a watch mysteriously gone missing are likely to send shivers up the spines of Manhattan Theatre Club's (MTC) many older subscribers. A regularly "missing" wristwatch certainly indicates more than a "senior moment" for André the title character of Florian Zeller's The Father.

Though at seventy-eight Frank Langella is well past social security eligibility, he has no problem remembering the lines the French playwright has written for him, and Christopher Hampton has expertly translated. Tall and imposing as ever, Langella hasn't lost a smidgen of the charisma, ear-pleasing line delivery and ability to get inside a character that account for his standing as one of the contemporary theater's most riveting actors.

And so, bottom line for impatient readers: If you appreciate what a masterful actor can do with a difficult part, you won't want to miss The Father because Langella is on stage for most of its 90 minutes. Is Zeller's play as unmissable? Not quite so much.

Writers of film and stage plays have already activated the topicality of dramas about dealing with encroaching dementia in ourselves or a loved one. Hollywood did On Golden Pond in 1981, Iris in 2002 Still Alice and The Notebook in 2014. Broadway and Off-Broadway tackled the subject with a stage adaptation of On Golden Pond, and more recently with The Other Place , Dot and The Humans .

In fairness to Mr. Zeller, he's taken a clever and dramatically potent approach with The Father. Instead of telling his story from the outside in, he has taken us inside André's mind. This makes for a "hold onto your seat belts" descent into the scary inner landscape of a man desperate to hold onto his fading memory. While this is basically about a tragic situation facing more and more people, the playwright has managed to imbue the story with the aura of a psychological thriller that has us as disoriented as André about what's happening and who's who.

As the play opens we see his patient but stressed daughter Anne (Kathryn Erbe) dealing with her father's inability to get along with the caretakers. As taken in from his side of their conversations, the elegant apartment they're in is his. She seems on the brink of leaving him and Paris to live with a man she loves in London. His responding to this with "So you're abandoning me" hints at his reluctant admission that all's not well with him.

Over the course of the play's fifteen intermissionless scenes, the setting remains Scott Pask's apartment but with each scene bringing a subtle change to correlate with what's happening. The characters as seen through the title character's lens too are eerily inconstant. The man in Anne's life turns out to actually be her husband Pierre (Brian Avers). To intensify André's deteriorating memory and ability to recognize people, Anne and Pierre at one point show up in the apartment as different actors (Kathleen McNenny and Charles borland, listed only as Man and Woman). Further confused identities involve the initially fired but unseen caretaker and Laura( Hannah Cabell), a new one who he likes.

Even André's own past is shrouded in confusion. He says he was dancer but according to his daughter he was an engineer and his beloved younger daughter Elise may be dead rather than traveling around the world as a successful artist. Perhaps the subtitle, "a tragic farce," which Zeller added to the title of his script is intended for us to see André's mind as having a jumble of doors in and out of which these chameleon characters pop.

No question that Mr. Zeller's structure is stylish and clever. It allows for a good bit of humor before moving towards its dark conclusion. Best of all it gives Mr. Langella quite a bit of scenery to chew — to be unpleasant, charming, funny and tragic. Being a big man and in fine physical shape, he manages to do all superbly, including a litle show-off tap dance for Laura, the caretaker who brings out his once flirtatious persona.

Doug Hughes directs with his usually steady hand and elicits solid performances from the support cast — especially from Kathryn Erbe probably best known to some viewers as Detective Alexandra Eames on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Donald Holder's intense flashes of light aptly echo André's failing neural system, but briefly enough not to be overly annoying.

However, though Langella and this production pretty much justify all the hype that has brought The Father from London to Broadway, the twilight zone set-up tends to be be as confusing as it is clever. Consequently, you may, as I did, leave the theater full of admiration for the acting and staging, but without having been really pulled all the way in — not even by that almost biblical image evoked at the end. That said, at age thirty-seven Mr. Zeller is fast becoming one of France's most acclaimed contemporary playwrights. The Father won him his second Moliere Award (France's highest theatrical honor) and has already brought his earlier winner of that award, The Mother, back to the London stage. The subject of that one is depression.

The Father by Florian Zeller
Translation by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Doug Hughes
Cast: Frank Langella (André ;), Kathryn Erbe (Anne), Brian Avers (Pierre), Charles Borland (Man), Hannah Cabell (Laura), Liz Wisan (Woman)
Scenic design: Scott Pask
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lighting: Donald Holder
Original music and sound: Fitz Patton
Illusion consultant:Jim Steinmeyer
Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street, (212) 239-6200,
From 3/22/16/ opening 4/14/16; closing 6/19/16.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/15/16 press performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Father
  • I disagree with the review of The Father
  • The review made me eager to see The Father
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2016, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from