by Lynn on February 25, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Florian Zeller

Translated by Christopher Hampton

Directed by Ted Dykstra

Set and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Richard Feren

Cast: Beau Dixon

Trish Fagan

Paul Fauteux

Michelle Monteith

Oyin Oladejo

Eric Peterson

A delicate yet heart wrenching production of a play about dementia and how it effects loved ones.

The Story. André has dementia. People keep greeting him in his apartment and he can’t keep track if it’s his daughter Anne or not. He can’t remember if Anne is married to Antoine or is Antoine her lover. He thinks she said she was moving to London to be with him, but then she says she’s not going to London and doesn’t know where he got the idea from. She keeps hiring caregivers and he keeps driving them away, accusing them of stealing. Anne suggests André come and live with her and Pierre but isn’t sure if Pierre is her lover or her husband.

The Production. Director Ted Dykstra has created a beautiful production, languidly paced so that the play’s surprises are revealed with a quiet ease that always seems to keep the audience unbalanced, in a good way. Anne Treusch has created a set of grey walls and spare furniture that could suggest this is an apartment in Paris, where the play is set.

The production was had a startling glitch when Nicholas Campbell who was originally cast as André had to withdraw at the last minute. Fortunately Eric Peterson was able to step into the role because he had performed The Father late last year at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. I saw the last performance of that production and Peterson totally inhabited the character with heart, soul and conviction. For the Coal Mine Theatre Peterson has recreated the role of André with all his irascible frustration, certainty that people are trying to confuse him deliberately, and terrible concern that he is ‘loosing it.’

The relationship between André and his daughter Anne (Trish Fagan) is a beautiful creation of layers of nuance, subtlety, care, patience, impatience and confusion on both their parts. Fagan as Anne, kneels down in front of André (Eric Peterson) as a sign of respect, so as not to tower over him and present a sense of her power over him. She looks him in the face when she talks to him. She is tender but frustrated at the constant need for repetition of everything she tries to make him remember. “Don’t you remember I told you…..” is a phrase that peppers the dialogue of various characters to André. He reacts with anger that he doesn’t remember and rather than admit something is wrong, he covers it with his impatience at what is happening, refusing to admit he is sick. Of course dementia is such an insidious, lousy disease, perhaps he doesn’t know what is happening to him until the end, when he completely collapses in the arms of a nurse (Michelle Monteith, as he reverts to heartbreaking childhood. She caresses him and holds him so tenderly that the ache of that miserable disease gushes up.

Comment. Florian Zeller is the new ‘big deal.’ His plays have been produced in Paris, London (the West End) and New York (Broadway) to great acclaim. They generally deal in allusion. What are we really looking at? In  The Truth is a man really having an affair? In The Height of the Storm a devoted, long married couple talk about their children, what she will make for lunch etc. And as the play goes on we realize that one of them is actually dead, but which one is the mystery. And with The Father Zeller deftly makes us see dementia and experience dementia from the point of view of all the characters. We see André’s terrible confusion and his concern as yet another ‘stranger’ presents himself or herself to him, in his apartment and he’s not sure who they are, even though they have a familiarity with him. We see the frustration that Anne deals with because her father is slipping away in the fog of the disease. And we see the sweetness and also coolness that many caregivers experience when dealing with this type of patient.

And while the play is contemporary and there is a whole world of information out there about the disease, every one tending and caring for André is totally incapable of understanding that a victim of dementia has lost the ability to remember so humiliating them with the phrase: “But I’ve told you every day for a week where you are,” is cruel and unhelpful.

That said, this production beautifully illuminates what every character is going through, none more than André because of Eric Peterson, in this towering performance.

The Coal Mine Theatre Presents:

Began: Feb. 10, 2019.

Closes: March 3, 2019/

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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