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Theater Review: “The Father”

“The Father” plays through June 24, 2018 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.
Photo credit:
Shana Wride & James Sutorius photo by Aaron Rumley

Remember Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man (from “As You Like It”)? These days we’d probably use a medical term for the last stage of number seven: dementia, or its colleague Alzheimer’s.

When elderly André (James Sutorius) “loses” his watch (again) and tells daughter Anne (Robyn Cohen) the caregiver stole it (again), I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to sit through the rest of French playwright Florian Zeller’s “The Father.” It was just too familiar.

But this play – brilliantly translated by Christopher Hampton – is a must-see for all of us, especially those with elderly parents who may be starting down that path.

The play becomes almost as disorienting as André’s mind. André lives on his own in Paris – or does he? There is talk of London. Are we there or in Paris? And André can’t figure out whether these other men who drift through (Richard Baird, Matthew Salazar-Thompson) are Anne’s present or former lovers or husbands or?? And what about the women (played by Jacque Wilke and Shana Wride)? Caregivers, nurses?

Anne thinks her dad needs 24/7 care in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients, but André won’t hear of it. He insists he is doing fine on his own, but a frequent comment – “This doesn’t make any sense” – may sum up his condition.

André can be charming, if sometimes careless with the truth, as when he tells a caregiver that he was a tap dancer and threatens to demonstrate (he was an engineer). But he is also given to sudden unprovoked and often frightening fits of anger and annoyance.

“The Father” won the Moliere Award as best play of 2014 in France, and the Olivier Award as best play of 2015 in England. It’s still a difficult show to watch (especially if you’ve been there), but as lifespans lengthen it is also increasingly important. North Coast Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director David Ellenstein (who directs the play) scored a real coup in getting the rights for this West Coast premiere, which runs through June 24.

Ellenstein also secured a terrific cast. Sutorius and Cohen will break your heart in different ways as André, whose confusion, panic, fear and imperious certainty increasingly exhaust daughter Anne, who must also endure insults like being told she is not the favorite daughter.

Baird, Salazar-Thompson, Wilke and Wride – four of San Diego’s best actors – play several other characters, who swirl around almost dance-like in this pas de six of memory, forgetting and survival.

Marty Burnett’s simple blue and white set design rightly serves to focus the attention on the actors. Elisa Benzoni’s costumes, Matt Novotny’s lighting and Melanie Chen Cole’s sound make fine contributions as well.

“The Father” is difficult but important theater.

The details

“The Father” plays through June 24, 2018 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org