The brilliant actor Alfred Molina gives an exquisite performance in The Father, which opened this week at Pasadena Playhouse. He plays the titular character in this searing drama written by French playwright Florian Zeller (translated by Christopher Hampton) which takes us inside the deteriorating mind of a charming, erudite British man named Andre, who lives in a chic apartment in Paris with his daughter. Or is it her apartment they live in with her menacing husband? Was he a tap dancer in his younger days or was he an accomplished engineer? It’s a jarring experience as we, the audience, can’t be sure what is real and what is imagined. The play takes us from scene to seemingly disjointed scene by way of startling blackouts where one isn’t quite sure where we are exactly and who we are looking at. It’s an extraordinary exercise in challenging our concepts of reality and is deftly directed by Jessica Kubzansky who has her actors expertly volleying with one another like Serena Williams at Wimbledon.
Sue Cremin plays daughter, Anne, with palpable anguish and anxiety in her every word and movement. It’s painful to watch her character struggle to care for and understand her father while figuring out her own life. Robert Mammana is by turns charming and frightening in the role of “man”, playing a few different figures in Andre’s life. Pia Shah is quite delightful as the new caregiver, Laura, creating some funny, playful moments with Molina. Michael Manuel is Anne’s husband Pierre, who seems gentle albeit frustrated but when he becomes angry, he is suddenly intimidating. Lisa Renee Pitts as “woman”, playing multiple roles, is a steady force never more so than when she is Andre’s nurse. When she comforts him it is a staggering moment of recognizing the depth and breadth of what caregivers do each day.
But the show hinges on the central figure of Andre and Molina gives a performance of precision, pathos and grace. At the top of the show, Molina gives us a glimpse of the charm, intelligence and bluster of who Andre was and sometimes still is. As the play progresses, we, along with Andre, slowly spiral into an unknown space where we begin to doubt our own mind. Molina blazes across the stage in a fury of indignation and outrage and then, incredibly, given his formidable presence, becomes as vulnerable as a baby. It is breathtaking.
The Father runs through March 1, 2020. Tickets start at $25 and are available at pasadenaplayhouse.org by phone at 626-356-7529, and at the box office at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.