Review: ‘The Father’ at Manhattan Theatre Club in NYC

Floria  Zeller, the French playwright might have called his play The Father In Winter, for The Lion in Winter was already taken. In this one act and 90-minute tragedy, adapted from the French by Christopher Hampton, a former giant of a father figure has, at the play’s start, begun his slide down the slippery slope of dementia. He finds himself in the care of his older daughter Anne, and though he doesn’t know it, he is living in her apartment with her.

We learn early on that this man, played with the artistry of Frank Langella at the peak of his powers, is already manipulating his way around the truth as he finds himself losing things and accusing others of stealing them. Anne has begun to realize her father is not merely forgetful, but is in fact slowly losing his ability to cope with reality. The device the author and Director Doug Hughes have chosen to present this difficult material to us is elevated by the superb work of Frank Langella, for whom we grow to have great empathy. The material itself is somewhat inconsistent in that the supporting characters are not nearly as interesting as the father himself.

Frank Langella (Andre) and Kathleen McNenny (Woman). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Frank Langella (Andre) and Kathleen McNenny (Woman). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Katherine Erbe (for years the leading lady of Law and Order: Criminal Intent) is attractive and earnest but was lacking in energy and in her scenes with Langella, her Anne is well meaning and ardent, but no match for her dad. Hannah Cabell plays one of the nurses’ aides who reminds father of  his younger daughter, clearly his favorite, and as a result, he gets along well with her — until his confused mind does a quick turnaround and he becomes suddenly offensive.

The two men who figure prominently in Anne’s life are unappealing and colorless. Again, the writing does not offer the actors much range and when father is offstage, their scenes with Anne and others are decidedly more what we’d expect from an afternoon soap opera.

As this play is conceived from the father’s point of view, it is in the end saved by the richness of Mr. Langella’s work. The directorial and scenic concept, by Scott Pask, is effective too, for it involves the diminishing of the beautifully elegant apartment in which father is living, and by the time he is reduced to a hospital bed, the room that surrounds it is virtually bare. The final moments are as moving and heartbreaking as the old gent.

Frank Langella (Andre) and Hannah Cabell (Laura). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Frank Langella (Andre) and Hannah Cabell (Laura). Photo by Joan Marcus.

This play may be rough going for anyone who has lived through dementia with a loved one. For others it is an informative and ultimately moving depiction of what sadly can become part of life for some.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Father plays at Manhattan Theatre Club performing at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre – 261 West 47th Street, in New York City. For tickets, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or (800) 447-7400, or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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