Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Dean's review of First Date
Essentially this is the play. What saves it from predictability is the brilliance of its execution. It doesn't take long before the audience realizes that they are also in the haze of dementia; they can't tell whether they are seeing things as they are or as they are not. Is what is taking place on stage real or imagined? Is it the present or the past? Does time even have any meaning anymore?
When we first meet André, the father, he has the characteristic personality of many people with dementia: not just forgetful, but belligerent, abrasive and paranoid. We soon see why. He's trying desperately to hold on to his sanity, but the world no longer makes sense. This woman who says she is his daughter Anne, is she really his daughter? We can't tell either, because she's played by a different actress from the one we just saw as Anne. Did she bring home a chicken for dinner, or didn't she? Is there a man there, or isn't there? Are they giving him the gaslight treatment in order to get him out of his valuable apartment in Paris?
Is Anne staying in Paris or moving to London? Is she living alone or living with Pierre? If she's living with Pierre, which of the two actors on stage is the real Pierre? It goes on like this until André loses not only his surroundings but his own self, culminating in the devastating metaphysical question: "Who am I?" The audience members, however, can go home and at least believe they know who they are. There is no home for André anymore. Mere oblivion, as Shakespeare says, sans everything.
Although André becomes increasingly incoherent, director Lee Kitts and her creative team have put together one of the most coherent stagings that I have seen in quite a while, a lesson in stagecraft. The plush aristocratic French furniture of André's apartment becomes sparser, then plainer, then grayer, then minimal, then empty space. During scene changes, the music becomes more and more dissonant, with snippets of children's songs and French standards like "La Mer" getting lost in crescendoing noise. The lighting becomes progressively more crepuscular as André's faculties dim. It's all remarkably thought through and executed. Credit for the set and props goes to Mary Rossman and Nina Dorrance, lighting to Ray Rey Griego, sound to Casey Mraz, and it's adroitly orchestrated by stage manager Heather Lovick-Tolley. They're all working at the top of their game here.
Likewise Lee Kitts and her superb cast. Paul Ford, one of the eminences of Albuquerque theater, is perfect as André, convincingly conveying, without affectations, the dissolution of a consciousness. I don't know if it was my imagination or makeup, but his beard seemed to become scruffier and grayer as the 90-minute production went on. Merritt C. Glover has the other meaty role as Anne, the caring daughter who is at her wit's end, and she seems truly stricken by the decisions she has to make.
The cast is rounded out by Jen Stephenson (terrific no matter what the role), Mark Hisler (always good too), Kristine Cornils (it's good to see her on stage again), and Blake Magnusson (who also should be on stage more often). There was one scene where Blake is berating André and I thought it was wildly overacted, but then I realized that we're seeing what André sees, and that's probably how it appears to him. Still, I think it would have worked better with more menace and fewer histrionicsmore Pinteresque, in other words. But that is the only jarring moment in this excellent production. Everything else is of a piece.
After the show, everyone I talked to in the lobby had a story about a family member with dementia. It's the epidemic of our time, and this production of this play is probably the best representation of the condition that you will ever see.
The Father by Florian Zeller, directed by Lee Kitts, is being presented at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE in Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Through February 4, 2018. Tickets $19 to $22. There is a special benefit performance for the Alzheimer's Association on January 20, tickets $25, includes a reception after the show. Info at www.vortexabq.org.