There are public nightmares, and then there are private terrors. We know the former well, or think we do, as they repeat themselves on the news cycle. But a diagnosis for which there is no treatment can be equally harrowing as it slowly and persistently shreds the core of self and family. Dementia is one such diagnosis, and Florian Zeller’s play, The Father, depicts the horror.
In short, The Father is a story about a daughter (Raquel Duffy) trying to manage her life as her widowed father (Eric Peterson) slides into cognitive decline. Or is The Father a story about an elderly engineer whose daughter brings strangers into his home — strangers who infantilize him, steal from him, and treat him badly? The situation is not unique. For the daughter there are the conflicting demands of fidelity, a career, a relationship, and geography; for the father there is the accumulation of losses — his watch, his words, his trust, and his recognition. And yes, there is abuse, both verbal and physical. I wondered if we were to also infer the subtleties of financial abuse (Yes. It does happen.) as the set and stage props gradually changed, or whether the set changes were a metaphor for cumulative losses.
Eric Peterson is spot-on in his brilliant portrayal of cognitive decline. He is well supported by Raquel Duffy, Brad Rudy, Molly Kidder, Tess Degenstein and Mathew MacFadzean. On opening night the cast received a standing ovation, I however remained seated. I needed to compose myself; my eyes were wet and my mascara had run. The Father was an astonishing portrayal of events I have seen far too often in private homes and public institutions.
The Father is playing at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton until November 10, 2018.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices.