By Sandi Durell
Expect to remain in a state of suspended reality and put aside all that is logical in Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm. If you happened to have seen The Father at Manhattan Theatre Club three years ago there was also an André (played by Frank Langella) who had a daughter named Anne. And dementia was also the theme with all the sorrow, love, and loss.
Zeller doesn’t stray far in this translation from the French by Christopher Hampton, directed by Jonathan Kent. The author is attempting to provide a puzzle, a guessing game . . . who is actually dead? Is it a deteriorating, trembling André (Jonathan Pryce) played with gusto, and outbursts of confusion or is it Madeline (Eileen Atkins) his wife of 50 years, who maintains a quiet, painstaking concentration and is so invitingly obscure? When André peers thoughtfully out the kitchen window (gorgeous lighting effects by Hugh Vanstone) into a garden, which Madeline regularly tends, is he seeing her or a memory?
One could take a quick guess given the references of their two daughters, the elder Anne (Amanda Drew) and younger Elise (Lisa O’Hare) that their mother is no longer living. But how could that be the case when in the next scene, Madeline is a living breathing soul engaged in family conversations. To further the confusion, as we listen to conversations of Anne and Elise and a seamy real estate agent (who is also Elise’s boyfriend), known as The Man (James Hillier), about getting daddy to sell the house and move to a home, because he cannot live alone, we’re pretty sure that Madeline has left this earth. But has she? Or has André?
They are visited by an old friend, The Woman (a sexy Lucy Cohu), who opens up a new vista of a probable affair, not with André’s former business partner, but perhaps with André himself, when a personal diary emerges raising questionable doubt.
It’s a conundrum that takes place in 80 minutes of theatrical devices designed to confuse and put you in an elliptical spin. But, the bottom line basically comes down to . . . who cares!
You’re seeing two great actors on stage who mesmerize an audience.
Photos: Joan Marcus
The Height of the Storm, Samuel J. Friedman Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club 261 West 47 St. – thru November 24.