Arts & Entertainment

Untempered Look at Dementia in “The Father” at the Pasadena Playhouse

By Brianna Chu

Alfred Molina & Pia Shah in The Father at Pasadena Playhouse. – Courtesy photo by Jenny Graham

Florian Zeller’s “Le Pére,” or “The Father,” translated to English by Christopher Hampton, subjects its audience to the fractured cacophony that remains of aging father André’s memories, forcing them to confront the distortion and disruption that dementia inflicts upon its sufferers. Delving into themes of reality, paranoia, splintered familial relationships, trauma, and elder abuse, “The Father” packs a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching punch.

Despite the plot’s heaviness, Alfred Molina’s performance as André proves that there is still humor to be found in the darkest of situations. Molina’s André both charms, spinning fantastical yarns to replace stories that he no longer remembers, and devastates in moments of vulnerability. His performance raises the bar for his ensemble members, and Sue Cremin’s Anne, André’s daughter, most notably struggles to hit the same stride. To me, this especially stood out in scenes in which she interacted with Molina and Michael Manuel, who plays Anne’s beau Pierre, who both possess resonant, powerful voices. In contrast, Cremin sounded like she had to shout constantly to vocally match her ensemble members, which sometimes undermined her many emotionally-charged scenes. Overall, the cast succeeds in immersing the audience in the unsettling chaos of André’s mind.

Cast on at Opening Night of The Father at Pasadena Playhouse on Feb 11, 2020. – Courtesy photo by Nick Agro

The set “loses its leaves” just as André’s memories do, starting out as a beautifully furnished apartment replete with homey touches, and David Meyer’s masterful design allows for an impactful and drastic transformation as the play unfolds. The sound design – music, ominous ticking, and jarring effects – never failed to startle, though I feel that a warning needed to be issued in case any audience members had heart conditions.

“The Father” brings to light several often under-discussed yet universal experiences, not the least of which is the strain that age and deteriorating physical and mental health incurs to not only our elders but those who care for them, blood relatives and professional caretakers alike. The Pasadena Playhouse’s run of “The Father” ends March 1, so I highly recommend booking tickets sooner rather than later.

Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 356-7529

February 18, 2020

About Author

Brianna Chu Brianna Chu is an opinion writer for Beacon Media who was born and raised in Pasadena. She loves to cook and to eat, is a lifelong viewer of Food Network, and enthusiastically introduced the tradition of Thanksgiving dinners to her British and European friends while earning her degree at the University of St Andrews. While they absolutely hated going around the table and saying what they were grateful for every year, they also loved the excuse to get together and feast with friends enough to endure it anyway. She also occasionally writes play reviews. She caught the theater bug in high school, acting in five plays and two musicals in high school, and continued to act, produce, and direct in university as well.

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