Theater Review: THE FATHER (Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Marc Wheeler on February 15, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles


Every once in a while a play reminds us what – and how exciting – theater can be. In The Father (Le Père), French playwright Florian Zeller doesn’t just present a man with dementia, he makes us feel as if we have it, too. Electrifying Southern California with Zeller’s genius is the Pasadena Playhouse and their returning director, Jessica Kubzansky. Translated into English by Christopher Hampton, The Father is a masterful achievement.

At the start, we meet André (Alfred Molina), an aging Parisian. As the fading father, Molina is a force with which to be reckoned – cantankerous, persnickety, and charming. After a few lines it’s clear he is forgetting things, so much so he requires a caretaker to assist his daughter Anne (an oddly performative, detached Sue Cremin). Upon introduction to her lover Pierre (cruelly embodied by Michael Manuel), the strain placed on their relationship is evident. By the time we grasp the extent of André’s deterioration, we’re plunged so far deep we don’t know if we’ll ever come up for air.

The play works best as an impressionistic experience. Examining any element too closely misses the point. Let its waves consume you, filling crevices and awakening fears you may not have realized you had. Subtitled A Tragic Farce, The Father is horror posing as drama using comedy as a coping mechanism. Scenes repeat themselves – or sorta repeat themselves. (An acting challenge conquered impressively.) More info is provided – or maybe more confusion. Just when we think we have our bearings, it all falls apart, plunging us into the deep. That’s when the panic sets in. The existential terror. And a compassion that can only accompany utter hopelessness.

While the play has been adapted for the silver screen twice – Floride (French, 2015) and the Anthony Hopkins/Olivia Colman version The Father (English, 2020), which Zeller adapted and directed himself  – it’s really a story ripe for the stage. Because not all is what it seems, the play provides ample room for directors to put their own spin on the material, deciding how much, and in what ways, to let audiences in on what’s happening. Since confusion is integral to the work, questions like “Is this production’s singular British accent (Mr. Molina’s) a directorial oversight or purposeful?” may not need an answer.

Though the Anne-Pierre interpretation warrants re-examination, most of Kubzansky’s directorial choices in this brain-twister, like David Meyer’s deteriorating sets, are arguably effective. (Those who want clear-cut answers may contend otherwise.) Perhaps most agreeable is Molina’s standout performance. When he’s not warming our hearts he’s breaking them. Likewise, as caretakers, tranquil sunray Pia Shah (“Laura”) and motherly Lisa Reneé Pitts (“Woman”) prove respectively comforting and devastating. A character in its own right is John Zalewski’s sound design in conjunction with Elizabeth Harper’s blackouts. Together they’re experienced as startling neurological misfires across a sick brain’s synapses. The amount of time they keep us in literal darkness over an intermissionless 90 minutes, however, is its own misfire.

The Father is as disorienting as it is sorrowful. It pays tribute to the countless souls whose lives have been destroyed – both directly and indirectly – by dementia and Alzheimer’s. It honors those who show up day after day, even minute after minute, to reintroduce themselves with a smile – even when it kills them. I haven’t been this viscerally affected by a play in a long time. It shows us that even with the loving reassurance from another, we’re ultimately on our own. That even with the loving reassurance from another, we’re ultimately on our own. That even loving reassure we’re. On. Ultimately. On our. Scared. Own.

photos by Jenny Graham

The Father
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena
Wed-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7; Tues at 8 (select weeks)
ends on March 1, 2020
for tickets, call 626.356.7529 or visit Pasadena Playhouse

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Al Peterson February 17, 2020 at 9:24 pm

Great review! Now I really want to watch it. I should have my paper tissues ready just in case.


Alan Garber March 5, 2020 at 10:28 pm


I’m very sorry I missed this. Any chance you will run it again? Can you recommend another production of it?

Thank you.


Editor-in-Chief Tony Frankel March 6, 2020 at 3:16 pm

The show will not be remount at Pasadena Playhouse. And while we no of no other local productions, The Father has been made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins.


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