In the play, “The Father,” viewers see the world through the eyes of André, a man struggling to come to terms with Alzheimer’s disease. The set morphs slowly and subtly. Furniture disappears, walls shift and the color of André’s pajamas fades. Soon viewers start to wonder: “Are we in André’s apartment after all? Have we ever been? And where is his watch?” The process of André’s internal and external deterioration becomes palpable for viewers.
French playwright Florian Zeller wrote the 2012 play,“The Father,” which is also University Theatre’s first show of 2018. After the show’s second weekend and with one more to go, its success is apparent: The opening show was sold out and two others were near capacity.
The play focuses on the relationship between André, played by junior biology major Ryan Sayegh, and his daughter Anne, played by senior English major and theatre arts minor Jenna Gaitan. Their relationship is tragedy embodied.
Anne wrestles with how to care for her father when sometimes he doesn’t recognize her face. The strain of being his main caretaker makes her fantasize about wringing his neck while he sleeps.
Meanwhile, André grows more suspicious of his revolving door of in-home caregivers stealing his misplaced possessions. He muses to the caregivers about his other daughter, who he claims to love more, while Anne sits 10 feet away. André’s moments of clarity allow the terrifying nature of his experience to come through.
In one scene, André, unable to accept his illness, wrenchingly accuses Anne of memory loss. But the deep love they maintain for each other is apparent, making their situation even more tragic.
According to the show’s director and Professor of Theatre Arts, Nelson Barre, the play is dynamically universal, and its subject has personally affected everyone involved in its production. Each member of the cast and most of the production team have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Barre said the prevalence of the disease and people’s relationships with it drove everyone’s emotional investment.
“If you can’t remember where you fit into the world and where everyone else is in relation to you, which is sort of how we define ourselves, or if you’ve forgotten who these people around you are or where you live, then who are you?” Barre said.
Gaitan said that listening to someone from the Eugene Alzheimer’s Association give a presentation to the cast about the disease was invaluable both personally and for her role. Gaitan’s great grandmother suffered from the disease and her grandmother ended up in a similar position as her character being a vital caregiver.
“We wanted to portray as accurately as possible the experience of not only someone going through dementia but also the people who are helping them cope with the fact that their family member has an illness of that nature,” Gaitan said.
“The Father” has two remaining shows at the Hope Theater on Feb. 9 and 10 at 7:30.