Review Roundup: THE FATHER, Starring Frank Langella, Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

By: Apr. 14, 2016
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THE FATHER, a new play by Molière Award winner Florian Zeller, in a translation by two-time Tony Award winner Christopher Hampton (Sunset Boulevard, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, God of Carnage), opens tonight, April 14, 2016 on Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street).

Three-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella returns to the stage in The Father, an all new Broadway production of the play which captivated Paris and London. Winner of the Molière Award, France's most prestigious honor for a new work of theater, and The Guardian's pick for Best Play of the Year.

Also starring are Tony Award nominee Kathryn Erbe ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent," The Speed of Darkness), Brian Avers (Rock 'n' Roll, The Lieutenant of Inishmore), Charles Borland(A Man for All Seasons), Drama Desk Award nominee Hannah Cabell (Pumpgirl at MTC, Grounded) and Kathleen McNenny.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: ...Frank Langella, one of the most magnetic theater actors of his generation...As you may have gathered, "The Father" offers one of the most disorienting experiences in town. Yet, as directed by Doug Hughes, this Manhattan Theater Club production exudes a cool clarity that borders on the clinical...Donald Holder's expert lighting leans more toward institutional uniformity than creeping shadows - though every so often, it shifts in ways that make you wonder if your eyes aren't playing tricks on you...everyone seems rather puny, compared with Mr. Langella's André, which is the intention. Dementia is ugly, but it is also inherently tragic. That's what Shakespeare saw in King Lear (himself a precursor to the absurdist existential hero). Mr. Langella impressively played that role several years ago, but it's here, in a more prosaic context, that he nails the rage, pathos and cruelty behind that titanic part....

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: Under Doug Hughes' direction, Langella makes fluid transitions from charmingly self-assured to nervously befuddled to positively terrified. The 90-minute piece serves better as an actor's showcase than a satisfying play, and the star subtly and believably builds to a shuddering climax. Erbe is rock solid as a woman trying to stay in control of an impossible situation. One would expect her to be the next to start losing her mind.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: The play keeps its audience in a continuous state of disorientation, possibly moving around in time, smudging the lines between reality and misperception...Not even Scott Pask's tastefully appointed set remains stable...Manhattan Theatre Club's production, directed with astringent reserve by Doug Hughes, has another special effect in the imposing form of Langella himself. Tall, powerfully built and sonorous as ever, the 78-year-old actor has a commanding presence...The Father may not be deep, but its depiction of André is effective and sad. As history repeats and repeats in his brain, invisible doors close slowly around him

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: There's no real drama to the basic structure of the play, just the ruthless forward movement of one man's inevitable fate unfolding. To say the play is hard to take is a cruel understatement...Langella does a superb job of communicating the conflicted feelings of a man who can't believe - and won't accept - the changes in his life...Aside from letting Donald Holder get away with shining high-beam lights at the audience during blackouts, director Doug Hughes handles the material with sensitivity...

Jesse Green, Vulture: In 40 years of watching Langella onstage, from Seascape and Dracula in the 1970s through Frost/Nixon and Man and Boy just recently, I've never seen that need come as close to full exposure as in the just-opened Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Father...It's a must-see performance. The Father, though, is only a might-see play, more of a vehicle than a destination...Langella, who in some plays threatens to devour everyone else onstage, is here well matched by a cast of actors who perform their own seductions and know how to find their light. Especially effective are Kathryn Erbe...and Hannah Cabell...

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: The Father was a hit in Paris and London and is smoothly translated by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses)...But Doug Hughes' production...seems slight at 90 intermissionless minutes. The exception, of course, is Langella, giving another master class in felt performance as André regresses - devolves, really - from strong-willed fighter to whimpering babe... It's a performance of surpassing empathy, and sadness.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: As usual, Langella gives a big, showy performance. That approach has sometimes been a distraction in the past. Not with "The Father," which is really one long mad scene. Langella's larger-than-life performance becomes the character's way of trying to hang on to life...Zeller has underwritten the supporting characters, and director John Hughes is wise to keep those performances very understated. Especially fine are Kathleen McNenny as the woman and Charles Borland as the man. There's something menacing in how matter of fact they are when interacting with the totally bewildered Andre...

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: With three Tonys on his shelf, Frank Langella knows his way around a Broadway stage. That includes when he's playing someone lost in the dark clouds of dementia...Written by rising-star French author Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton ("Les Liaisons Dangereuses"), this 90-minute play comes with 15 scenes and a compelling conceit. You must walk a mile in Andre's slippers to experience what it's like to lose your marbles. And you will...At its best, Zeller's writing is crisp, darkly humorous and emits a hushed Pinteresque chill. On the down side, the play is so sterile it sidesteps the mess that comes with mental deterioration...Doug Hughes' direction in the Manhattan Theatre Club staging also cuts both ways...Fortunately, though, Langella is forever intriguing.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: ...Because "The Father" is presented from the view of Langella's André, a retired Parisian engineer-or perhaps a tap dancer?-we can't be sure what's actually happening and what's his imagination...The three-time Tony Award winner (currently on FX's "The Americans") brings trademark versatility to the role, alternating from aggressive, to lucid and charming, then insecure and infantile. Langella's mercurial performance surely will be relatable to any audience member who has spent time around a person with dementia...Much of "The Father" is a delusion, and so we work to form our own conclusions about what's real or not, even as André's shifting reality guides us toward a foreshadowed ending. This is an intricately constructed drama depicting a phenomenon few can identify with-what it must be like to be a capable person slowly losing his mind.

Matt Windman, AM New York: ...The audience can never be sure what's going on, where we are or who everyone is in "The Father," a jarring and intense French drama by Florian Zeller (translated into English by Christopher Hampton) that is told from the perspective of an 80-year-old man suffering from severe dementia...Doug Hughes' focused production is built around an all-out, highly emotional performance from Langella that brings to mind King Lear's extreme fall from security into chaos...a dramatically effective and culturally important one that forces the audience to see the world through the eyes of someone with dementia and identify with him. It should be mandatory viewing for anyone who knows a person with dementia.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: In technical terms, this is an accomplished piece of writing, but there's little heart in it for a play that plumbs such despair, both for the afflicted central character and the family member closest to him. The work will no doubt resonate for audiences with direct experience of a loved one suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. But a drama that explores such gnawing relatable fears shouldn't have to rely on personal associations for pathos. Zeller's enigmatic construction does skillfully place us inside the woolly head of Andre and make us share in his confusion. But unlike another British import, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which also gave us direct access to the mindset of a character grappling with perception issues, the stiffness of the writing here leaves relatively little room for empathy.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: While the role of an elderly man slowly losing his marbles could have lent itself to some mugging - Florian Zeller did subtitle his play "a tragic farce" - Langella is fairly restrained. Not quite as much as when playing the calmly menacing KGB handler of "The Americans," but pretty low-key by his standards.

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: Langella keeps astonishing; and the passing years-he is now 78-only seem to deepen his power to draw us in and make us feel. In The Father, he adds something new to his well-honed arsenal of actorly skills. After lulling us into thinking, over the first hour of this ninety-minute play, that this is just another one of those excellent failing-old-men performances, the ground slips from under him (and us)-at which point the actor, and his audience, feel an altogether new kind of terror.

Linda Winer, Newsday: I wish I could say that Florian Zeller's play lived up to the depths of its worthy ambition - much less to Langella's silken heartbreak of a performance or to the international acclaim of the award-winning French author. "The Father," which is having its American premiere in a new production directed by Doug Hughes ("Doubt") and translated by Christopher Hampton, uses a come-on-along device to try to make us viscerally feel the confusion and the cruelty of the mind in disarray.

Alexis Soloski, Guardian: Parts of the play can feel somewhat too pat, as though Zeller is amusing himself in finding out how many ways he can alter reality using the familiar mechanisms of the stage - an audience's trust of exposition, the faith in representational setting, the tendency to identify a particular character with a single actor. But he dismisses most of this cleverness in an ending that is both sentimental and searing and will probably devastate anyone who has seen a close friend or relative suffer from dementia. The final scene is a terrible and tragic reversion, in which a man of articulacy and power is reduced to a kind of infantilism, left with with no language but a cry.

Christopher Kelly, Once it becomes apparent what Zeller is up to, "The Father" has nowhere to go - it merely marks time until André completes his dreary spiral into despair and complete confusion. The ever-amazing Langella keeps this watchable for as long as possible, giving us an André who is alternately charming and irksome, pitiable and pathetic. But by the time this poor man is getting slapped around (or is he?) by a man who may or may not be his son-in-law, "The Father" has turned repetitive and sour. What's the point of this hall-of-mirrors, other than to reflect back the ugliness of humanity?

Peter Marks, Washington Post: "The Father" - not of course, to be mistaken for the unnerving August Strindberg play of the same title - lumbers on in this vein for an hour and a half. The turbulent turns in Andre's powers of perception may strike one as unpredictable, but Zeller and Hampton's machinations do not. Langella is a bit too robust for a man so ravaged by mental deterioration. Still, he's in his element here, conveying with Lear-like levels of outrage and hurt Andre's refusal, or inability, to comprehend what is happening to him. As a demonstration of how Alzheimer's runs its course, Hughes's production has some merit: It might be serve as a useful training tool for medical schools. As illness-of-the-week plays go, however, "The Father" is mundane. Much finer works, such as Margaret Edson's "Wit," about a professor dying of ovarian cancer, have crossed this company's path in the past.

Photo by Joan Marcus

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