Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

The Father
Cockroach Theatre
Review by Mary LaFrance


Clare Jaget, Gary Lunn, and Jon Spinogatti
Photo by Richard Brusky
How does it feel to descend into dementia? Those who know cannot tell us. Florian Zeller's play The Father imagines this experience, by placing us inside the deteriorating mind of André, an octogenarian who lives with his daughter Anne in Paris. Under Darren Weller's smart direction, the Cockroach Theatre's production is disturbing and grimly gripping.

The play opens with a distressed Anne confronting André, who has driven away his previous caregiver with false accusations of theft. Anne is clearly at her breaking point, but André is callous and nonchalant, blissfully unaware of the havoc he creates. Unrelentingly self-centered, he browbeats everyone around him, convinced that they are at fault for his constant frustration. He can be charming, then turn suddenly cruel.

As André's memory repeatedly deceives him, his confusion and paranoia mount. He constantly misplaces his watch, and each time insists that someone has stolen it. He is convinced that people are conspiring to steal his flat. The play's unique device, however, is its structure, which cleverly mirrors André's disordered mind. As a result, the audience becomes just as confused as he. In no particular order, Anne is married, divorced, remarried, not married, moving to London, not moving to London. The household furnishings mysteriously disappear. Morning suddenly becomes dinnertime. The new caregiver that captured André's heart at her interview arrives for work, but has become a different person. A series of strange men appear in the flat, each claiming to live there. The Father owes a strong nod to King Lear, and (thanks in part to Christopher Hampton's sensitive translation) André's final scene has echoes of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.

Like Lear, André has no appreciation for Anne's devotion, and openly flaunts his preference for her younger sister, the mysteriously absent Elise. Anne is at a critical juncture in her life; to save her sanity and her marriage she must decide if it is time to move her father into a nursing facility.

Gary Lunn gives an affecting performance as André. He makes the character's mercurial mood swings convincing and infuses his scenes with naturalism through André's absent-minded gestures and tics. Lunn is especially strong in the second half of the play, as André's confusion mounts and his world becomes more elemental and frightening. His final scene is heartrending.

Clare Jaget is also strong as Anne. The tension in her face and body are palpable. This is an especially challenging role. Because, for the most part, we are seeing Anne through André's eyes, she is strangely distorted. We get very little sense of her inner life; she is all surface. Only when she is alone with her husband Pierre do we get a small glimpse of the real person. It's still not enough to make the audience identify with her, and she comes across as distant, although not cold. Under Weller's direction, Jaget navigates this divide well.

As Anne's husband Pierre, Jon Spinogatti manages to be equally convincing as a patient and supportive spouse and as a cruel abuser. Which Pierre is real? In a performance that is both subtle and brilliant, Spinogatti keeps us guessing. Kelly Hawes has a nice turn as Laura, the newly hired caregiver who briefly entrances André. In their interview scene, Hawes and Lunn have splendid chemistry.

On opening night, the pacing was a bit slow, and some of the scenes between Anne and André felt a bit actory. In addition, the cast wasn't fully mining the snippets of humor that infuse the script, depriving the audience of much-needed comic relief. This is likely to improve later in the run, as the actors begin to fully inhabit their roles.

Alexia Chen's set design is ingenious. While the play opens in a nicely appointed flat, bit by bit the furnishings diminish. Chen achieves this through the use of revolving panels, enabling bookshelves and fireplaces to vanish during the briefest of scene changes. The set design thematically parallels the deterioration of André's memories. If you look carefully, even the pages in André's address book are blank.

The Father is not a feel-good play, but it's a thought-provoking glimpse into the basis of our sense of self. We all depend on memory to secure our identity: our understanding of who we are is defined by our experiences and relationships. When our mind severs these connections, what do we have left?

The Father, through April 15, 2018, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, and Saturday, April 14 at 2 pm; no Fridays) at the Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. First St., #110, Las Vegas NV. For tickets ($25 adults, $20 seniors and public servants, $15 under 30) and further information, go to www.cockroachtheatre.com.

Cast:
André: Gary Lunn
Anne: Clare Jaget
Pierre: Jon Spinogatti
Woman: Gigi Guizado
Man: Tim Cummings
Laura: Kelly Hawes

Additional Creative:
Lighting Design: Andy Killion
Costume Design: Candice Wyants
Sound Design by Toby Allen


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