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The Father

Zeller, Florian; Hampton, Christopher

Last Updated: Jul-12-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Plays — Secondary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Play

Summary:

This annotation is based on a live performance presented by the Manhattan Theater Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater  in New York City that ran between April and June of 2016. The play was nominated for a 2016 Tony Award for best play, and Frank Langella won the 2016 Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play. In supporting roles were Kathryn Erbe, Brian Avers, Charles Borland, Hannah Cabell, and Kathleen McNenny.
 
The Father is the story of an older man with Alzheimer’s disease (André) and his progression through first living on his own, then living with his daughter (Anne), and finally living in a nursing home. Or, is it? It’s hard to tell, and that is the intention of the playwright, Florian Zeller, who told The Guardian (2015), “The Father is about an old man lost in the labyrinth of his mind.” The objective of the play is to bring audience members into the actual dementia experience so that rather than witnessing André’s disorientation they feel his disorientation.  

The director, Doug Hughes, creates the audience experience through an interplay among set designs, lighting effects, repeated scene sequences, and time loops as contexts for various symptom manifestations like memory loss, paranoia, anger, and lasciviousness. All the scenes take place in one room that serves at different times as André’s flat, Anne’s flat, and a nursing home room. The furnishings of the room change based on the supposed setting, but the walls are exactly the same for all of them. In different scenes, André is not always sure where he is, and neither is the audience.  

Early in the play, André hears Anne tell him she’s relocating from Paris to London with her lover, but she is present to him in most of the scenes thereafter and until the end of the play when he’s told by a nurse that Anne had moved to London some time ago. Had she really left Paris and was never actually there in all those other scenes? He wonders and so does the audience. In other scenes, the way characters from the past and present enter and exit distorts time for André, and so while audience members know the linear trajectory of the disease course, they can’t be sure of where they are in that course during a given scene. With the last scene taking place in André’s nursing home room with the same walls seen in his flat and Anne’s flat, the audience can’t be faulted for wondering whether all that came before was just one of André’s hallucinations.  

The play does not keep audience members in a perpetual state of confusion and despondency. Farcical elements are peppered throughout that produce occasional laughs, such as when Anne contests André’s account of a previous conversation, he suggests it’s she who has the memory problem: “You’ve forgotten. Listen, Anne, I have a feeling you sometimes suffer from memory loss. You do, I’m telling you. It’s worrying me. Haven’t you noticed?”

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

This annotation is based upon the version presented at The Mint Theatre in New York City in 2010, translated and directed by Gus Kaikkonnen.  It featured Thomas M. Hammond as Dr Knock and Patrick Husted as Dr Parpalaid, with Chris Mixon, Scott Barrow, and Patti Perkins in supporting roles.

A middle-aged but recently licensed physician, one Dr Knock, has arrived in rural France to take over a practice purchased from the genial old country doctor, Dr Paraplaid.  Much to Dr Knock's surprise, he discovers that Dr Paraplaid has done very little over the past three decades, seeing only a few patients a week and enjoying much of the time playing pool, riding around in his jalopy, and admiring the countryside.  Feeling slightly cheated, Dr Knock realizes that the practice he has purchased at some expense amounts to very little at all. He is, however, an ambitious man.  He did not become a licensed physician in the eager flush of late adolescence but as a man of the world, or rather, a man of the entreprenurial modern world where opportunities are seized and technology is transformative.  

Once Dr Paraplaid has gone, Dr Knock promptly sets about employing the town crier to advertise his practice so that the entire valley knows he is there.  He meets up with the local school teacher and the pharmacist, enlisting them as allies.  With everybody he encounters, he smilingly and then sharply insists that unlike Dr Paraplaid, he will not go by "Monsieur" but by "Doctor".  And when he actually opens the office, he begins by offering free consultations.  Of course, he always seems to find something wrong, elaborately explaining the aches, pains, and illnesses he discovers (or induces), but the free consultations, like free "samples" are designed to create grateful customers.  Invariably, they learn that the cost of the treatment is commensurate with the exact maximum amount they could pay.  And thus, Dr Knock takes a placid, lazy practice and builds up an expanding medical business. 

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

Actor Clark Middleton wrote this autobiographical dramatic monologue in collaboration with Robert Knopf. Stricken with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age four, Middleton enacts his early painful experience -- painful physically and emotionally. He takes us through an adolescence complicated by physical difference, his interaction with medical professionals over the years, and his craving to become an actor. Middleton struggles with the medical establishment, the pain and humor of coming-of-age, and ultimate self acceptance. Eventually, he was able to have both hip replacement surgery and a career in theater and film. The play is funny, poignant, and instructive.

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