By Barry Bassis.
On the current season of the exciting television series “The Americans,” Frank Langella is the formidable Soviet spy chief. On Broadway in The Father, he is just the opposite: an elderly man suffering from dementia.
While Langella, at 78, is only two years younger than the character he plays, the actor appears in every scene and consistently dominates the stage.
André (the title character in Florian Zeller’s drama, translated from French into English by Christopher Hampton) is a proud man. An elegant figure, he constantly misplaces his watch and struggles to keep track of everything else. He can’t recognize the apartment where he lives and doesn’t remember whether the daughter he lives with is married or recognize his son-in-law or the woman hired as his caretaker.
Ably directed by Doug Hughes, The Father is well acted by Kathryn Erbe as the patient daughter plus Brian Avers, Charles Borland and Kathleen McNenny. But the action revolves around Langella’s André and he is the one you won’t forget.
Eugene O’Neill was unusual in that his greatest works were written after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Long Day’s Journey into Night was based on O’Neill’s own family and was so personal that he stipulated that it couldn’t be performed until after his death.
The masterpiece is now back on Broadway, under the direction of Jonathan Kent, and the play is still harrowing. Gabriel Byrne is well cast as James Tyrone (the retired Irish matinee idol who sold out his art for profit and who is miserly because of his fear of ending his life in the poorhouse). Jessica Lange is luminous and heartbreaking as his wife, Mary, who struggles with addiction. Michael Shannon is intense and occasionally wryly funny as the alcoholic older son Jamie. The least interesting role is by John Gallagher, Jr. as the consumptive son Edmund (based on O’Neill himself).
With a running time of almost four hours, the journey is long but those interested in serious theater will not want to miss it.
We could all use a laugh nowadays and Fully Committed has 40 characters who will have you in stitches. That’s because they are all played by one actor, the virtuosic Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of Modern Family). Becky Mode’s comedy deals with Sam (a struggling actor who is working at a chic restaurant taking telephone reservations).
Sam must deal with ignorant customers as well as the flighty chef and his own show business agent and acting friends/competitors. Without costume changes, Ferguson instantly shifts characters and even genders. Mode’s play (written more than 15 years ago) has been updated so that there are now jokes about Gwyneth Paltrow, among others. It’s all hilarious, thanks to Ferguson and talented director Jason Moore (of Avenue Q).
Waitress (based on writer-director Adrienne Shelley’s 2007 indie film) is a musical with a comfort food locale. The protagonist Jenna is an unhappily married waitress/pie baker, who discovers she is pregnant. The quirky comedy has her falling in love with her married gynecologist. While this sounds creepy, it comes off as cute, in part because the heroine is played by Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony for Beautiful. She is just as delightful here, especially when singing the songs of Sara Bareilles while backed by an on-stage band. The supporting cast is excellent, with a standout performance by Christopher Fitzgerald as the nerdy suitor of one of the other waitresses.