‘The Father’ is a heartbreaking drama about an overlooked problem

Florian Zeller’s drama “The Father” has been an international sensation in recent years, first winning the French playwright a Molière Award (the national theater award of France) for best play in 2014 and then coming to both the West End and Broadway in an English translation by Christopher Hampton.

From left, Heidi Penix, Eric Austin, David R. Jarrott, Amber Quick, Lori Kovacevich and Joel Gross star in “The Father.
Contributed by Kayleigh Axtell

The play tells the story of Andrè, a senior citizen suffering from increasing dementia, but it relates the events to the audience from Andrè’s point of view. Scenery moves and disappears from scene to scene, doorways shift location in blackouts, narrative moments appear out of order, and unfamiliar actors appear claiming to be characters we’ve already met. The text demands two key things of any production — a tour-de-force performance from its lead (Frank Langella won a Tony Award for the role on Broadway), and a deliberately confusing and off-putting presentation that helps to place the audience inside Andrè’s head.

Jarrott Productions’ Austin premier of “The Father,” playing through March 4 at Trinity Street Theatre, meets both these high marks. Austin theater mainstay David Jarrott’s portrayal of Andrè is fierce, frightening and ultimately all-too-sympathetic, which enables director Rick Roemer to develop staging conventions that help us understand Andrè’s pain while at the same time glimpsing the ways in which he passes that pain off to his own daughter, Anne.

Amber Quick, as Anne, is able to match Jarrott’s strength, creating a bristling family dynamic. The relationship between the pair is at the heart of the show, as it reveals the suffering that dementia brings not only to the afflicted but also to their concerned family members. Just as we are led to understand Andrè’s outbursts and anger, which result from his confusion, we can sympathize with some of the more desperate decisions that Anne makes because we see the heartache etched across Quick’s face.

Though Jarrott and Quick steal the show, “The Father” is truly a collaboration, with the rest of the cast and the entire design team contributing to an overall aesthetic that deliberately obscures narrative truth in order to get at deeper emotional issues of family obligation, elder abuse and the ways in which memory can bring us both comfort and pain.

‘THE FATHER’
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through March 4
Where: Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St.
Cost: $23-$25
Information: jarrottproductions.com

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