Frank Langella delivers a tour de force performance. Of course he does, it’s what he always does, and he’s done it again! In The Father, Langella plays 80 year old Frenchman André, whose mind, whether he likes it or not, is starting to go. One of the more remarkable things about Florian Zeller’s play is the way it puts you on the inside of dementia, lets you really feel the confusion from André’s point of view.
The fact that Langella is still physically imposing and effortlessly charismatic makes André’s descent all the more poignant. It’s also good casting on another level: André is a fiercely intelligent and independent man, after Langella’s own stripe.
The downside of The Father is that it requires an actor of Langella’s talents to keep it compelling. Playwright Florian Zeller, a rising star of French theatre, gives us a handful of startling coups de theatres, but there is also much in the play that is static or redundant.
As such, the other character in the play are ciphers for the most part, with the notable exception of his devoted but conflicted daughter Anne, played by Kathryn Erbe with harried dignity. Overall, Zeller’s script, for all its cleverness and insight, tends toward an icy intellectualism which does it no favors. Then again, most of French playwrighting since Beckett has had the same problem.
While these problems are a bit more serious than mere quibbles, there’s no denying that The Father really does feel designed to be a star vehicle, and it’s a largely effective one, especially with its very effective star. On that basis, I can easily recommend it.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.