Review: THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM at Black Point Theatre

This production runs until May 27th

By: May. 15, 2024
Review: THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM at Black Point Theatre
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Death becomes her…I think. Or maybe it becomes him. Someone might be dead. Or not. Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm leaves many unanswered questions at the Black Point Theatre, ones that I’m not sure I will ever understand. I suppose that’s the point, as Zeller said, “…For me the theatre is, above all, the place for questions, not answers. For doubt more than certainty or conviction.”  

The Height of the Storm opens the morning after a large storm, with André (Tom Rhatigan) vacantly staring out his window as his daughter, Anne (Taylor Burris), prattles on about the storm, his future, and his newly-found diaries. It’s intimated that his wife, Madeleine (Adrienne Sher) is dead, but that thought is soon dismissed as she appears suddenly from a day of shopping. As she methodically peels mushrooms (I did not know people did this), it becomes apparent that André is actually the one who has died. Except…they all start having a conversation and are joined by another daughter, Élise (Christi van Eyken). This pas de deux of life and death continues, with Madeleine and André switching mortality, throughout the play. When we get to the unexpected appearance of a former acquaintance of André’s, whose name is constantly being butchered (á la Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon), we finally see some emotion from the resolute Madeleine. The Woman (Nina Collins-Patrick), in true Zeller fashion, vacillates between hinting that André is the father to her son and naming his now-dead friend as the father. In the background is the Man (Andrew Fridae), who I thought to be the unnamed son but who is actually Élise’s predatory estate agent boyfriend, who smells the blood of a deteriorating family and an opportunity to snatch up some land. On this increasingly dizzying ride, the rules change as soon as you think you’ve got them down -- until the end, when a discarded note and a tender exchange between Madeleine and André sort of provide clarity with a nod to the vulnerability of aging and a desperation to stop time.

The strength of this production lies with Rhatigan and Sher’s performances. Rhatigan’s André is a near-perfect imitation of a person with dementia. His long silences and blank stares are followed by confusion and anger fueled by the frustration of knowing he should understand but doesn’t. He truly gives a haunting portrayal of the cruelties of a failing mind. Sher’s Madeleine is equally impressive. Her deadpan style of delivery shows her take-charge and take-no-bull attitude. “I’m not saying I can’t stand them. No, they’re nice girls,” she says about her daughters. In her advanced years, she wants to be left alone to take care of André and enjoy the time they have left together. As she tells him, “They say life is short, but it isn’t true. It’s terribly long.” A mention of a couple dying of suicide by mushroom deserves a second thought. Are they that couple? Does she get what she wishes for? Is André left alone despite her promise to take care of him? I’m not sure. You should go and let me know.

The Height of the Storm is presented by Black Point Theatre through May 26th at the Black Box Theatre in the West Sacramento Community Center. More information may be found online at blackpointtheatre.org.

Photo credit: Woody Fridae

 




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