Josh Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. He is a writer for Choice The Musical and half of the comedy duo Flanders. Josh is a contributor for Chicago Reader and Chicagoland Musical Theatre, a member of the American Theater Critics Association, and a graduate of the Second City Conservatory. He is co-owner of Flanders Consulting.
Linda Gillum and David Darlow. Photo by Michael Courier.
by Josh Flanders
“I’m losing all my things”– Andre in The Father
Anyone who has had to deal with an elder family member suffering a neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, will immediately sympathize with Andre, the main character in The Father. Part Twilight Zone-style mystery and part thriller, with a touch of humor, this engaging drama tackles the difficult topic of aging like a Christopher Nolan film. There is time shifting, inconsistencies of characters, and enough plot twists to leave the audience feeling the same perplexed frustration Andre experiences. Characters come, go, and change. Reality is far from straightforward. Even the set itself begins to mirror Andre’s slow mental deterioration.
The Father is more than just a direct examination of the frustration the loss of mental faculties takes on everyone in the family. Yes, there is the parent reluctant to accept help, the resentments tearing people apart, the selfless yet infantile caregivers, the suffering family members, and the frustrated spouses watching their partners sacrifice their lives in the care of a parent they love. But what makes this drama so engaging is that the story itself becomes a reflection of the inner workings of a mind struggling to hold on to information as it slowly slips away. Tragic and honest, it floats somewhere between sleeping and waking, like a lucid dream.
David Darlow is absolutely remarkable as Andre. Commanding attention, he is likable and authentic in his portrayal of the vast mood swings that often visit those faced with dementia. One moment he is funny, tap dancing, charming, and the next he is verbally abusive or frustrated, looking for a lost watch or trying to figure out where he is. The audience is equally confused, thanks to the sharp script by French playwright Florian Zeller (and translated by Christopher Hampton) that adds intrigue to the story, peeling back layers of truth through Andre’s mental decline.
Director Kay Martinovich makes Andre the most human and endearing character, surrounding him with family, like daughter Anne (Linda Gillum), her husband Pierre (Anish Jethmalani), and caregiver Laura (Alys Dickerson), all of whom speak with a distant, lightly Mamet-esque staccato, an unnatural style which is at first off-putting, but eventually comes to reflect the overall foreign tone of the environment Andre finds himself in.
This is a family at their wit’s end, frustrated, like Andre, with what they do not understand. Every character gets angry with him at some point. They are often harsh, asking him repeatedly if he remembers what just happened, or being verbally and, at one point, even physically abusive. Infants and the elderly have a lot in common. Both need to be cared for and both act out and throw tantrums. As Andre ages he acts more childlike, a transition difficult to watch.
It takes a talented writer to address issues of parental caregiving, elder abuse, and the less-pretty parts of aging that people avoid facing. The Father succeeds as both an engaging work of art and as an insightful and personal look at the reality of the human experience.
Remy Bumppo’s “The Father” runs through March 3 at Theater Wit. More info at remybumppo.org.