The Father at Coal Mine Theater builds empathy for its lead character that ages with its combination of farce and tragedy

Eric Peterson is a man with dementia and Trish Fagan is the foster daughter of The Father at Coal Mine Theater.
Eric Peterson is a man with dementia and Trish Fagan is the foster daughter of The Father at Coal Mine Theater. (KRISTINA RUDDICK)

Written by Florian Zeller. Directed by Ted Dykstra. Until March 3 at the Coal Mine Theater, 1454 Danforth Ave.

The French playwright of the moment calls Florian Zeller The father a "tragic farce", which in theory makes sense. It is imbued with misunderstandings, wrong identities, voluntary or victorious courtship, and an assault of income and expenses; thus, the comic mishaps of a farce.

Then comes the tragedy to turn what would be fun in a farce into a source of fear and frustration, that's why The father it has been so widely acclaimed. It expresses the misadventures through the perspective of a man with dementia, his painful guardian daughter and his exasperated partner.

From his first in Paris in 2012, his first English in English in 2014 and his work on Broadway in 2016, The father has impressed and terrified critics and the public in the way it continually changes the rules of the scenes: the information received at one point is completely denied in another, the places and faces change without warning and the behavior goes from calm to violent in a instant people around the aging of father Andre with the measured patience of someone sane talking to someone unstable, or a parent talking to a child.

The desired effect is for us to share Andre's discomfort and confusion, distorting what we think is reality; it is the light of theater theater to create empathy for our main character.

It is a structure that Zeller has expanded into an included trilogy The mother (in which a woman falls into a hallucinatory depression after her son has moved) e Son, on the anxiety of a teenager following the divorce of his parents, all translated into English by Christopher Hampton.

Although Zeller calls The father an obscure comedy, the tragedy often upsets any potential laughter in submission, even with the amiable Canadian TV actor Eric Peterson as Andre in the current production of the Coal Mine Theater.

A late casting change to replace Nicholas Campbell because of an illness, Peterson has the advantage of playing the role of the American Theater Aquarius last fall – otherwise it's hard to imagine him pulling Andre's monologues out of unfinished sentences and 180-degree turns of thought and mood so extraordinarily well.

But even in his most carefree moments, trying to impress the young nurse Laura (Oyin Oladejo) with a past life invented as a tap dance dancer, Andre of Peterson has a wide eyed leer and a big smile that suggests an inappropriate threat. On the other hand, that same scene unleashes the petty side of Andre as he contrasts with his dutiful daughter Anne (Trish Fagan). Peterson can not summon the brutal delivery necessary to make this change as extreme as possible.

It is the best in capturing Andre's child impotence, which culminates in a definitive shift. But these moments also push the public to empathize with Andre to be outside the observatories, and far from Zeller's exclusive dementia portrait to a more stereotypical representation.

Fagan, a welcome sight on a stage in Toronto, is as solid as Anne, one of the few reliable anchors that the public can withstand over Andre. It is patient and balanced to balance the unpredictable behavior of the father and the anger of his partner Pierre (Beau Dixon). Even so, her martyrdom becomes tiring and we want her, just once, to unbutton her cardigan and let go.

And this brings another problem with The father: Zeller's interest in portraying the French bourgeoisie with beautiful houses and clothes, keeping their emotions choked in good company. The father play on the stereotype in stories like The notebook, Alice again is Gray & # 39; s Anatomy, that dementia is the saddest when the rich, the beautiful and the white suffer from it. Even with the best performers and solid direction and design (by Anna Treusch, Bonnie Beecher and Richard Feren), as it became the Coal Mine standard, there is a question about why we are immersed in this particular family.

Perhaps this is just the reaction of someone who does not have a close relationship with dementia and aging of parents, or not yet. Zeller's concept of conveying the feeling of losing the mind and of submitting to the orders of others plays in our widespread fear of aging. With an aging population, it's a good lesson for now.

Carly Maga is a Toronto theater critic and freelance contributor to the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @RadioMaga