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BWW Review: THE FATHER at Pasadena Playhouse Florian Zeller's brilliant play THE FATHER plumbs the idea of how memory makes us who we are.

BWW Review: THE FATHER at Pasadena Playhouse Florian Zeller's brilliant play THE FATHER plumbs the idea of how memory makes us who we are.

What is memory? Vibrant and ephemeral as a dream, it's the only thing that allows us to make sense of both ourselves and our lives. So what are we without it?

Florian Zeller's brilliant play THE FATHER plumbs that idea, starting off light-hearted and slowly, piece by piece, descending into a harrowing and devastating freefall. Tony, Golden Globe, and Emmy nominee Alfred Molina plays André, a father of two daughters: Élise, who is long gone, and Anne (Sue Cremin), who takes care of him in his stately Paris apartment. A bit crotchety, André is pleasant enough, but when Anne tells him she's moving to London to be with her boyfriend, he's having none of it. He doesn't want his life to change, and at his age, who can blame him?

As the story progresses, it becomes clear there are shifting realities and a clearly unreliable narrator. Zeller's original script, written in French and here translated by Academy, Tony, and BAFTA Award winner Christopher Hampton, shows us only glimpses of André's world, giving us just the right amount of information to make us think we're connecting the dots at the outset. Once the puzzle has been assembled (or disassembled, as it were), though, the fleeting and fluctuating pieces make us doubt our own memories.

BWW Review: THE FATHER at Pasadena Playhouse Florian Zeller's brilliant play THE FATHER plumbs the idea of how memory makes us who we are.
Alfred Molina as André. Photo by Jenny Graham

Molina has always been superb but here he reaches the sublime. He gives a tour-de-force performance filled with pathos, pain, and humanity. He gives André a complexity and nuanced deftness that makes him alive in ways you don't often see on stage. (It's especially remarkable given that his wife since 1986, actress and novelist Jill Gascoine, is in advanced-stage Alzheimer's.)

Unfortunately, some of the supporting cast can't keep up with Molina. Lisa Renee Pitts (as Woman) and Robert Mammana (as Man) are solid (Pitts exhibits a bright and inviting warmth), and Michael Manuel brings a terse cruelty to his role as Pierre, Anne's boyfriend, who is frustrated and resentful that she puts her father before everyone and everything else. (It's only a little distracting that it takes place in Paris, and Molina has a British accent and the rest have American.)

BWW Review: THE FATHER at Pasadena Playhouse Florian Zeller's brilliant play THE FATHER plumbs the idea of how memory makes us who we are.
Alfred Molina. Photo by Jenny Graham

With a 90-minute running time and no intermission THE FATHER hurtles along with an agility and fragmentation that is reminiscent of dreams. Director Jessica Kubzansky does a good job of keeping the pacing brisk, but there are some sitcom-ish moments that could have been massaged into more relatable humor. The scenic design by David Meyer is outstanding, with living and dining areas and a short hall leading to other rooms. It's a beautiful apartment, and the set slowly and subtly comes apart, as André's mind and memory fracture.

What gives the project so much power is that it doesn't dip into melodrama or sentimentality. It relies on mystery, just like there is mystery in both life and in our own swirling memories. And in the end, those memories are the only things that make us who we are, even when all else is lost.

THE FATHER runs through March 1 with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $50 and can be purchased at PasadenaPlayhouse.org or 626.356.7529. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.


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