Any time you can see two stars with the skills of Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, the opportunity is worth seizing. That even holds true for the so-so French play by Florian Zeller (“La Mère” and “Le Père”) that has come to Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club presentation translated by Christopher Hampton. Pryce and Atkins are the main reasons for having a look at the production and they fulfill expectations.
With direction by Jonathan Kent, we are taken in the present into a country home near Paris (scenic design by Anthony Ward) and we see Pryce as André, agitated and in a state of advancing dementia. His daughter Anne (Amanda Drew) is trying to convince him that the large house must be sold as he cannot live there alone.
Alone? We see him with his wife Madeleine (Atkins) in family gatherings around a table. But the author is toying with us. We get a hint that Madeleine is really dead, and at another point it would seem that André has died. How much of what we see is in memory?
In the course of the drama we meet Elise (Lisa O’Hare), the couple’s other daughter, and Lucy Cohu as a woman visitor who upsets André, as she was in a former relationship with him. The dialogue is often entertaining as well as emotional, but the audience is titillated into trying to figure out what’s what and what is really of the moment and not ghostly.
Everything builds to a strong finale in which Madeleine and André are seen on stage together and expressing loving tenderness and devotion, and then, in a coup de theatre, Madeleine fades away at the very last moment leaving André alone in a spotlight.
Much of the portrait André will be especially meaningful for those who have dealt with dementia of family members, as the play raises issues of what happens when individuals can no longer cope and steps must be taken to care for them. It also embraces the problem of how deaths must be faced. While the author’s concepts are complex and mysterious and make demands on an audience, it may be best to stop straining to figure things out and just enjoy the superb performances by the stars. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Reviewed September 28 , 2019.