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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Father

"What about me? who exactly am I?"— Andre asks the nurse who looks after him.
Kate Eastwood Norris and Ted van Griethuysen (Photo credit: Teresa Wood)
If the name Florian Zeller is not familiar that is because his novels and plays have only recently arrived in the United States. His work is well-known, well-liked and much praised in Paris, (he's French), London and New York but the production of The Father, currently at Studio Theatre is Washington's introduction to him. Bienvenue, Florian, please come again soon for The Father is a fascinating, intriguing, and compassionate look at the vagaries of memory, time, family and love.

Andre, the main character played exquisitely by Ted van Griethuysen, is 80. His mind is going, he takes pills, when reminded, loses his watch, and drives his daughter and the men in her life nuts.

He causes confusion with the familiar and sadly true symptoms of aging. Because you are never sure whether Andre is in control of all his mental faculties or being a tricky old codger, the performance if full of surprises.

Admittedly the part is about as juicy as it gets for an octogenarian — not that there is much competition beyond King Lear. Ted van Griethuysen, who is 81, has had a long and distinguished career at the Shakespeare and Studio Theatres. Well-known and much-loved by Washington theater audiences, he has appeared in a full range of parts — leads, cameos, comic, tragic and so on — but Andre is one of, if not his best ever performance.

Kate Eastwood Norris as Anne, the daughter Andre compares unfavorably to his other daughter, shows great patience with her difficult, stubborn and annoying father. The performance is tightly controlled and sensitive to nuance. The rest of the roles are ably handled and a recurring joke or trick involving race is nicely downplayed.

There really is not a false note in the entire intermissionless 90 minutes, nor is there a letdown because Director David Muse discreetly enhances playwright Zeller's ever-changing truth. The action unfolds through a series of vignettes that are separated by blackouts and punctuated by strong oblong lights recessed into a proscenium-like arch.

As time passes and the scenes go by, the lights diminish in size until there is nothing but darkness. Kudos to both Muse and his Lighting Designer Keith Parham. The set by Debra Booth evolves nicely too as props and furniture disappear.

There will I suppose be people who will not like the comments — physical as well as verbal— about confusion brought on by old age or by having to look after someone whose faculties are waning. But Zeller's play and Studio's production illuminates the truth in this universal fact of life.

For a review the Broadway prodution starring Frank Langella go here .

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The Father by Florian Zeller
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by David Muse
Set Designer, Debra Booth
Costume Designer, Wade Laboissonniere
Lighting Designer, Keith Parham
Cast: Ted van Griethuysen (Andre); Kate Eastwood Norris (Anne); Daniel Harray (Man); Erika Rose (Woman); Caroline Dubberly (Laura); Manny Buckley (Pierre).
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC; 202-332-3300; tickets from $20 to $85.
May 10 to June 18, 2017.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson based on May 14, 2017 matinee performance.

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