French drama warps audience perspective in Toronto production of a modern classic
The cast of The Father offers us a resounding performance about aging, memory loss, and loneliness. This striking story, playing at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre, sheds light in an exacting manner on the consequences of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The reality of memory loss, from the patient’s frustration about feeling unintelligent, to the family’s sadness of watching a loved one’s personality transform, is aptly portrayed in this play. Playwright Florian Zeller (whose work is translated from French by Christopher Hampton) lets us into the jumbled mind of a person with dementia. As a relative of someone with cognitive impairment, I quickly recognized the dreaded symptoms: the unfinished sentences, the confusion about who is who and where is where, and the accusations of theft, which are particularly upsetting to the main character André when they involve his lost watch.
The story: the father André (Eric Peterson) has worn out yet another caregiver and brought her to tears, causing his daughter Anne (Trish Fagan) to undergo finding a new one. Through several scenes revolving around his care and housing, we experience André’s inability to recognize his own family members. While Anne is mostly played by Fagan, she is once played by Michelle Monteith. Similarly, his son-in-law is played mostly by Beau Dixon, but is played in a few scenes by Paul Fauteux. He cannot recognize his loved ones as his memory of their faces has changed. The switching up of actors makes me appreciate the theatre genre. I’m not sure if actors could be interchanged with such impact in a non-live medium like film.
Eric Peterson brings out André’s vulnerability with humanity and respect. His colleagues Trish Fagan, Beau Dixon, Paul Fauteux, Michelle Monteith, and Oyin Oladejo (playing the sweetest caregiver, Laura) perform with commitment and grace. I believed they had a collective desire to perform this meaningful play with justice and sensitivity.
What’s more, the cast was formidably supported by a natural translation, a fitting and simple set design that made Andre’s home both a Parisian apartment and a retirement home room, solid costume choices in André’s pajamas and Anne’s work attire, and ambient music that pulled heartstrings.
Toronto is lucky to have this opportunity to see The Father, as some of the Baby Boomers we know may be in André’s shoes. The golden years, for many of us, may be a time of bewilderment. I highly encourage Mooney readers to come to the cozy Coal Mine Theatre to watch André get through another day, as he does not go gently into that good night.
- The Father is playing until March 3, 2019 at Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Ave)
- Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30 PM, with an additional matinee on Sundays at 2 PM
- Ticket prices range from $25 to $42.50; rush tickets may be available 45 minutes before each performance
- No latecomers are accepted
- Performances may be sold out
Photo of Beau Dixon, Eric Peterson and Trish Fagan by Kristina Ruddick