Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Theatre Review: The Father, August Strindberg, Theatre for a New Audience, Brooklyn, New York

Two weeks ago, I reviewed director Jeffery Horowitz’s production of Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. Last week, I saw the same company and creative team bring to life August Strindberg’s 1887 The Father.

Maggie Lacey and John Douglas Thompson in The Father
The two plays share many themes and, in some ways, parallel casts of characters so the decision to stage the contemporary (and rival) playwrights’ pieces in such a complementary way is an understandable one.

Here it is the father of the house, the Captain (John Douglas Thompson), whose behaviour is increasingly erratic, mirroring that of Nora in the earlier play. He’s driven mad by the uncertainty of paternity and manipulated by his wife Laura (Maggie Lacey) who sets up an unrelenting campaign against him to win control of their daughter Bertha, baulking at the unfairness of nineteenth-century marriage laws.

John Douglas Thompson in The Father
As with A Doll’s House, the ending is twisted in this production. Bertha’s cry of ‘mother’ is an accusatory one, shifting our focus again to how the remaining parent (here the mother) can remedy the loss of the other (a more modern consideration than those Strindberg and Ibsen were tackling).

Initially the inferior position of women is much more obvious than in A Doll’s House. A philandering soldier, Nordstrom (Christian J. Mallen), refuses to admit his responsibility for a servant girl’s pregnancy in a scene that firmly establishes the sexual double standard. But in this production it was hard to sympathise with the lack of options attendant on Laura’s plight. Thompson’s Captain is a little too weak too quickly and his madness seems over-egged. We’re left doubting how necessary it is that she push him over the edge.

Laurie Kennedy in The Father
Laurie Kennedy does a great job as Margaret, the Captain’s aged childhood nurse, and generally this feels like much more of an ensemble piece than its sister production.

After watching both plays, the overall message of these productions, for me, though remains confused. Apart from feeling sorry for the children what do we take from plays that apply twenty-first century issues to a nineteenth-century setting? Are the genders still at war or are we meant to conclude that being a father is the much less enviable position?

The Father is on at TFANA in Brooklyn until June 12. You can purchase tickets here.

Are there any other NYC productions you’d like to see the Secret Victorianist review? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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