Ted van Griethuysen is so convincing as Andre in The Studio Theatre’s The Father that for the first few moments of the play I was sure that the other actors switching around as his daughter and her husband (a musical chairs feat of actors Kate Eastwood Norris Caroline Dubberly, Erika Rose, Manny Buckley and Daniel Harray)— were all in on a scam to commit him and take his worldly possessions.
So was this a detective mystery or a play about the declining brain?
In a way, it turns out to be both, as we try to piece together reality from Andre’s demented viewpoint.
Seeing people who are not there, seeing people as being others then who they are— and the resulting confusion as to what he hears them say to him— is part of his slow painful process of decline. The flashing lights between the breaks in the scenes well suit the blank moments that memory recedes in the mind. The confusion of what the place is— no longer about whether it is his apartment or if he has moved to his daughter’s—comes next as what he sees fade from his awareness of what is around him —now a stage bared of its furniture.
Kate Eastwood Norris as his daughter is the first to latch on to our sympathy. She is the embodiment of so many caregivers struggling with a living loved one losing it. She is convincing—at least to me— that the apartment has always been hers (indeed it is too orderly to be someone in decline). That she is a minimalist or moving to London—so that is why there is so little furniture left on the stage?
But it is Griethuysen who carries us along, with crusty charm as he crumbles beneath what he cannot fathom is happening to him.
And in the end, it is all about Andre, as it shifts from what is going on in the real world outside shared with others to form the cosmic void in his brain that is the loneliness of dementia.
This is not a story about Alzeihmer’s that brings you to tears as much as it takes you to a place of realization of what is inevitable in a human’s experience of decline. When only one piece of furniture, a bed, remains on the stage transformed now to room in a nursing home, it is not as a symbol, but the reality.
A stunning achievement for The Studio! Kudos to Artistic Director David Muse who brought Florian Zeller’s award winning play, (translated from the French by two-time Tony Award recipient Christopher Hampton) and to the entire company and production crew.
The Studio (to June 18, 2017)
1501 14th St NW