About ten days ago, I had the chance to see Frank Langella play the title role in The Father by Florian Zeller in an English translation by Christopher Hampton. I'm not entirely sure why I wanted to see it, other than wanting to see Frank Langella perform live and that the production directed by Doug Hughes had received positive reviews. Kathryn Erbe is also in it, and I knew her work from Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
I knew that Langella played an older man suffering from memory loss, old age, and dementia. What I didn't know was how extraordinary he would be in the role and how heartfelt Erbe would be in hers. As I sat in the theatre, I found myself immediately connecting his performance to my grandmother's final years before she passed. She was often confused, not always sure who I was, sometimes clear and then five minutes later not so clear. And my mother was privy to that slow and steady decline, day by day, over a period of four years. As the final fifteen minutes of the play unfolded, I found it impossible not to cry, for my mother and my grandmother, as the experience of witnessing dementia in someone we love was captured so well by Kathryn Erbe and the act of having dementia itself was portrayed so painfully well by Langella. He taught me what it must have been like for my grandmother, and it was terrifying. Zeller's play allows the audience to gain this understanding in a theatrical way that is unsettling and moving, and the playwright's skill is on display throughout the tight 90-minute piece. I left the theatre and continued to cry as I walked down the street, because I finally understood the depth of pain and sadness that my mother and grandmother must have felt in a way that I hadn't grasped before. It's one of those great productions that hurts because of its honesty but opens the heart at the same time. The Father now lives on my Top 10 theatre productions list. It has stayed with me since.
For giving extraordinary performances in a great play, for committing fully to terror of it all, and for giving me invaluable insights into my grandmother's final years and my mother's experience as a witness of it all, Frank Langella, Kathryn Erbe, and Florian Zeller are the artists I admire for this week.