Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Father - Coal Mine Theatre

Perhaps the greatest strength of Florian Zeller's acclaimed, multi-award winning play is just how infuriating it is. It took a good night's sleep and a few more hours of frustrated self examination before I could stop hating it. It initially struck me as a harrowing, circular narrative that amounted to precious little. And then it hit me. I was taking it all too personally. Watching the opening moments and the half hour that followed, I was enthralled. But for the next hour I grew increasingly agitated and annoyed. At one point I had the urge to ask one of the actors to pour me a glass of wine from the onstage table to calm my shattered nerves. But I assumed it was grape juice or some damn thing - and that would not have helped at all!!!

And yet, despite my self proclaimed dramaturgical peccadilloes, Eric Peterson in the title role gives an incredible virtuoso performance from start to finish, with the support of an impeccable ensemble. Christopher Hampton's superb translation very quickly reveals Zeller's original narrative as a perfectly structured, at times comic, at times deeply poignant interrogation of growing old, and all the joy and terror that may come with that inescapable process. 

Peterson's performance is a master class in sustained nuance. He captures every word and emotion with such clarity that the acting, at times, distracts from the story, thank heaven! I needed a break from the terror every now and then. 

Peterson's comic timing is incredible, and the seamless movement into intense grief and bewilderment is detailed and heartbreaking. Paul Fauteux's 'Man' possesses a similar  quality as he moves intricately from concerned onlooker to angry interlocutor. Trish Fagan provides a controlled aspect to this semi-familial disaster discourse that grounds the conflict with a constant sense of rationality and possibility. 

Beau Dixon, Michelle Monteith, and Oyin Oladejo  take on supporting roles that contributed immensely to the mystery, the mayhem, the hostility, the immense love, and the mixed emotion. Oladejo in particular, in a short scene with Peterson, shares a mid afternoon intoxicating libation and adds to the movement from comic to sharply conflicted with immense skill and vivid character development.

Eric Peterson as Andre with Oyin Oladejo as Laura (also Assistant Director)
Director Ted Dykstra provides highly effective and expansive blocking on a small, elegant, frequently claustrophbic stage, that simultaneously felt like a kind of entrapment as well as a broadly designed open space for six actors in search of impossible resolution to play upon. 

Anna Treusch's set gives the environment an elegant 'continental' feel for the movement between supposed European locales. Richard Feren's sound design, with interventions by Debussy, sets the tone for oncoming suspense that can never be fully realized. Such is life. 

By the end of the play, and even now that I have had time to recover, I still have the feeling that something was missing. Was it the play? Was it my lack of libationary comfort? Perhaps the final thirty minutes could have revved up the suspense and bewilderment with tempting visual and sound effects, distracting me from what I initially (and mistakenly) perceived as an annoying bottomless pit of mystery and lack of resolution. But again, that is life, part and parcel of my subjective dramaturgical daze. 

In spite of all that, this is a spellbinding show - not to be missed. And if it suits you, take a small flask, conceal it elegantly, and sip accordingly when the spirit moves you. To quote Bette Davis in All About Eve"Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night." 

A very bumpy one...

Eric Peterson and Trish Fagan

Beau Dixon (left) Trish Fagan (right) Eric Peterson (centre)

Michelle Monteith (left) Paul Fauteux (far right)


No comments:

Post a Comment