Tuesday, June 5, 2018

North Coast Rep. Leaves No Stone Unturned in “The Father”

It started when André (James Sutorius) couldn’t find his wristwatch. That was the first time we knew of it. His daughter Anne (an excellent Robyn Cohen) was pretty familiar with this behavior. Accusing his caretaker of stealing was pretty much his modus operandi and hard as Anne tried, she couldn’t convince her father that he had left it in his favorite hiding place.

“I’m losing all my things. If this goes on much longer, I’ll be naked, stark naked.” And what a prophecy he just proclaimed although I doubt André realized that.

It doesn’t get any better in Florian Zeller’s heartbreaking “The Father” now in a smartly designed West Coast Premiere at the North Coast Repertory Theatre through June 24th.
James Sutorius and Jacque Wilke
Winner of the 2014 Molière award for France’s best play (translated by Christopher Hampton) and directed by artistic director David Ellenstein the North Coast Repertory Theatre has opened doors that most will have a difficult time walking through.

André is losing his mind to dementia and we are witnesses to that demise through the eyes of his daughter Anne, or perhaps his, or perhaps a variety of other characters that come and go, seemingly knowing André but there is no reciprocity. Maybe they do, maybe that don’t.

We have no reason not to believe them, but on the other hand we have no reason to believe them either.
James Sutorius and Richard Baird
Enter The Man (Richard Baird) who claims that he is Anne’s long ago husband and André is living in his house. Fast forward and Anne not at all like the Anne we first met yet looking a lot like a character called The Woman (Shana Wride who later shows up as his nurse). 

In scene after scene and as André’s memory loss and his confusions grow, one piece of furniture after another disappears from his cozy Parisian flat, designed by Marty Burnett in arresting soft blues with white border Wedgwood looks, comfy furniture, shelves with books, knock-knacks and paintings on the walls, and gradually begins to look like André’s mind must feel, empty; neutral.

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste” (Motto of the United Negro College Fund). But what if it wasn’t wasted, but just slowly, bit by bit, word by word fading away? The one thing seems consistent about André is the love he has for his daughter Elise, his favorite. His memory is quite clear if not otherise directed on his love for her. “She never seems to get in touch.”
Matt Salazar Thompson, Robyn Cohen and James Sutouris
In a clever construct Zeller allows us to follows André and his visits with his daughter Anne who not only worries about him, but on this day she has to tell him that she will be moving from France to London with her new boyfriend Pierre (Matthew Salazar-Thompson) and will be getting someone to help him with his every day needs.

The more information we collect about the strangeness and inconsistencies of this illness the more bizarre André’s reactions become as he goes deeper into the rabbit hole of dementia. 

Ellenstein has done a marvelous job with his exceptional cast. James Sutorius is wonderfully believable, seemingly mild mannered and tortured elder looking, no demanding normality but confused of just what that looks like. My heart broke when he was looking for the word ‘coffee’ when he wanted some sugar in his…I always take two sugars in my…

In one disturbing but light scene he confesses to Laura (Jacque Wilke) one of his caregivers that he used to be a tap dancer when he was younger, even going so far as to give us a little sample. In fact Anne has to tell Laura that he was, in his past life an engineer.
Shana Wride, Richard Baird and James Sutorius
Strong support also comes from Thompson who has absolutely no sympathy for Anne’s father, going so far as to almost insist he be moved from their home to a nursing home.

Baird (The Man) is also strong, convincing that he was yes, alive and Anne’s now husband. But, is he, was he? Lord knows.

Wilke, as always, is smart shining and smiling as Andre’s caregiver and Shana Wride is wonderful with André in the final scenes that you must see for yourselves and bring tissues!

Production values are also exceptional with Matt Novotny’s lighting design, Melanie Chen Cole’s sound, Elisa Benzoni’s well coordinated clothes and of course Marty Burnett’s arresting in blues, set design.

James Sutorius with Robyn Cohen
This capable ensemble makes a case for everyone in the theatre to take note: It can happen to the best of us.

Do make a point to catch this one. I’m giving it 2 thumbs up.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 24th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Drama
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D Solana Beach, CA
Ticket Prices: $42.00-$53.00
Web: northcoastrep.org
Photo: Aaron Rumley

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