Usually the audience is in the best seats in the house, at least information wise during a play. We are privileged to see as everything unfolds, and watching as every angle develops while we wait for the other characters to catch up. In THE FATHER, playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre through June 24th, the audience is put in a more unpredictable position of shifting facts and realities in this wonderful and challenging new play.
It opens with André (James Sutorius) an elderly gentleman who is being told by his daughter Anne (Robyn Cohen) that she is moving to London from Paris to live with her boyfriend Anton. But since his most recent nurse has quit, saying André threatened to hit her, Anne cannot leave him unattended to take care of himself.
André, witty and urbane, cannot understand why he can’t stay in his apartment or why he is being accused by this nurse. He actually found that she was stealing from him, which is why he was angry with her. Clearly, this has all been blown out of proportion.
In the next few scenes André meets additional people, each claiming something different. There is Pierre who claims with a hint of malice, that he is married to Anne. André goes from confused to smug as he realizes he is about to ruin Pierre’s day by telling him about Anne’s new boyfriend. But then Anne walks in, and she is not the Anne he was expecting.
What is happening?
This is when it settles in that the audience is experiencing reality as André does, with its spinning information and things that are similar but not quite the same. Scenes start out grounded in realism, but soon the anomalies start creeping in. Each scene cleverly builds upon the others, but not always in ways you expect, as it plays with time and memory.
Sutorius is fantastic as André; charming, playful, infuriating, cruel, and heartbreaking. One moment he is charm and wit personified when talking a day nurse (a delightful Jacque Wilke). The next he is slipping in cutting comments directed to Anne, infrequent at first and then increasing as his dementia gets more pronounced and are delivered with a casual cruelty that seems to make them all the worse.
Robyn Choen as Anne is both strength and fragility as she tries to do her best under increasingly frustrating and demanding circumstances.
Richard Baird and Matthew Salazar-Thompson both bring a thinly veiled threat behind their smiles, while Shana Wride brings a sweet and soothing logic to the piece. To talk more about the characters would give away too much, but this cast as a whole makes this show work beautifully.
The set design by Marty Burnett lets this all play out in a gorgeous and spacious Paris loft. Decorated with nooks and crannies for people to disappear and reappear from, and lovely furniture that may or may not be vanishing. Accentuated by Matt Novotny’s lighting design, this play has a lush look, but helps reinforce the unreliability of the reality André and the audience may be experiencing.
Costumes by Elisa Benzoni also keep everyone in a smart but limited color scheme, with touches of color to tie people together. This allows the people to be interchangeable enough to reinforce the shifting perceptions, but grounded in the reality to know that some part of this must be based on fact.
Originally written in French by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, and directed by David Ellenstein, this play is a long one act but it keeps everything moving crisply, allows the emotions and the confusion to mount, and the suspense to build. Which reality is the right one? Where do all of these people fit in?
THE FATHER makes the audience question truth and reality while it explores the love and courage of two people as reality shifts around them. Aging brings new family dynamics, emotional seismic shifts, that all come together in this play to bring forth a really compelling piece of theatre.
THE FATHER is playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre through June 24th. For ticket and showtime information go to www.northcoastrep.org or call 858-481-1055