'The Father' to West-Coast premiere at North Coast Rep

Among the mostly lightweight audience-pleasers at North Coast Repertory Theatre this season, “The Father,” onstage May 30-June 24, stands out. It’s a dark, rather Lear-like play about an 80-year-old man with dementia. It was a Molière Award-winner in Paris, an Olivier Award-nominee in London, and a Tony-nominee in New York, where Frank Langella took home the Tony for Best Actor.

Originally written in French by Florian Zeller, a young novelist/playwright who’s been called “the most exciting new theater writer of our time,” “The Father” was translated into English by playwright Christopher Hampton, best known for his stage and screen versions of “Dangerous Liaisons.” NCRT is giving this challenging piece its West Coast premiere.

André, the main character, is used to being in control. He’s a former tap-dancer who lives in Paris with his daughter Anne and her husband Antoine ... or maybe he’s a former engineer whose daughter lives in London with her new partner, Pierre. Do they really think they can take his apartment away from him? Who are these people who keep coming in and out? And where is his favorite daughter, Elise?

The one thing that’s certain is: André’s not sure of anything anymore.

When it opened in the U.K., The Guardian called it “a hugely rewarding play... that constantly confounds expectations and works almost like a thriller.” And that’s why NCRT artistic director David Ellenstein said he wanted to present and direct it.

“I heard about the play, got a copy of the script, and thought it was extremely well-written, constructed in an unusual manner, and really compelling,” Ellenstein said. “My 92-year-old mother lives with us, so I know something about the issue, but the way it’s dealt with is so novel, that it made me look at things in a different way.”

Part of the theatrical adventure for audiences is that it takes awhile to figure out what is going on. In other words, you get a real sense of what it’s like to be someone who has had a productive life and now realizes he’s losing his grip.

Ellenstein, who has been head and heart of the theater since 2003, was quick to point out that “The Father” has a fair bit of “funny stuff” in it, too. “It’s not a dirge,” he said. “It’s a really enjoyable theatrical event. And we’ve got a really good cast, starting with James Sutorius, the LA-based actor who’s playing André. He’s 73, has a ton of credits in theater, film and TV, and he’s very excited about doing the part.”

The play’s central issue is one we may all have to deal with sooner or later. It sounds like “The Father” not only offers something to think about, but a potentially thrilling experience for theater-lovers to share.

IF YOU GO: “The Father” runs May 30-June 24 (Opening Night June 2) at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D, Solana Beach. Post-show talkback with cast and director June 8. Tickets: $42-$53. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org

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