Where: Remy Bumppo Theatre
Company at Theater Wit,
1229 W. Belmont Ave.
When: through March 9
By ANNE SPISELMAN
If “The Father” were just one of the growing number of recent works about adult children coping with aging parents who are suffering from some form of dementia, there might not be that much to say about it. But contemporary French playwright Florian Zeller’s intriguing play, translated by Christopher Hampton and powerfully staged by Remy Bumppo, takes us inside the head of the sufferer and allows us to experience his ever-shifting and shrinking world through his eyes.
The 90-some intermission-less minutes, which call to mind Eugene Ionesco at times, are a mélange of conversations and scenes that often are repeated with slight differences, as well as characters whose identities change. The puzzle-box of uncertainties also reflects the disorientation of the caregivers and, by extension, all of us.
Even the ownership of the sleekly designed (by Yu Shibagaki) Paris apartment in which most of the action takes place is uncertain. The elderly André (David Darlow) says it is his at the outset, but not long after his daughter Anne (Linda Gillum) reminds him that he has moved in with her and her boyfriend, Pierre (Anish Jethmalani). When André notices that furniture seems to have disappeared, she assures him that it has always been that way.
At first, the situation seems straightforward enough. Anne is concerned that her father can’t manage alone, because she’s planning to move to London with Pierre, who has a job there. But André, who seems to be in good health physically, assures her he’ll be fine and doesn’t want another of the caregivers she’s been hiring for him. In fact, he accuses the last one of stealing his watch—his most prized possession—though Anne suggests he may have hidden it in the kitchen cabinet and forgotten, which turns out to the case.
Things get stranger from there. When the caregiver Laura (Alys Dickerson) arrives, all helpful and bubbly, André flirts, charms her with a little tap dance, and says she reminds him of his other daughter, the one he loves. Then, in an instant, his eyes narrow to slits, and he makes a nasty comment about her giggling and rejects her.
Darlow is brilliant at navigating these rapid reversals from acquiescence to anger and, at the same time, embodies André’s gradual decline – even seeming to shrink physically – as he loses his grip and becomes more childlike and tearful. He also captures the pain of being aware of what is happening without being able to control it. One of the saddest moments comes when, having been in denial about the accident that took his other daughter, he breaks down and weeps about how much he misses her.
Gillum’s Anne has the measured tone and air of resignation of a woman who loves her father but clearly is at the end of her rope, while Jethmalani’s not-so-patient Pierre sympathizes with his girlfriend’s sense of duty but wants the old man out of the way so he and Anne can get on with their lives.
The playwright conveys Pierre’s inner feelings – and the way André perceives them – by presenting the Man (Bobby Wilhelmoon), who seems to be a tougher version of Pierre and abuses the old man. The Woman (Laura Resinger), who appears in a scene with him, is a less sympathetic version of Anne, and their appearance naturally causes André great distress, because he doesn’t recognize them and swears they can’t be who they say they are. The same thing happens when Laura (Resinger) returns but isn’t the same person; then she morphs into Martine, the nurse at the home in which Anne puts her father.
Under Kay Martinovich’s direction, everyone except Darlow’s André has a slightly detached air, which heightens the impact of his confusion and frustration. Of the technical elements, the original music by sound designer Christopher Kriz is especially effective.
In brief opening remarks, Remy Bumppo’s Producing Artistic Director Nick Sandys invited us to “enjoy the show.” Despite a certain amount of humor, I’m not sure “enjoy” is the right word for “The Father.” But you certainly should see it.