The Height of the Storm Review – The Depths of Dementia

The Height of the Storm Written By; Florian Zeller Translated By: Christopher Hampton Directed By: Jonathan Kent Jonathan Price Eileen Atkins Lucy Cohu Amanda Drew James Hiller Lisa O'Hare

The new play, The Height of the Storm  by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton is presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre at 47th St. by 8th Ave through Sunday November 24, 2019. The play stars Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins and is directed by Jonathan Kent.

From the Oxford College Dictionary: DEMENTIA> n. Med. a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental process caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.( 18th C. from L. from demeans, dement,-‘OUT OF ONE’S MIND ‘.}:

(l-r) Eileen Atkins, Jonathan Pryce Photo credit © Joan Marcus

Such is a central ingredient of  French playwright, Florian Zeller’s  two most recent offerings that have visited the Samuel Friedman Theatre via Manhattan Theatre Club and translator, British playwright, Christopher Hampton over the past two years. The Father, which starred Frank Langella previously and garnered him his fourth Tony Award which could not have been more warranted, presented an elderly intellectual patriarch, desperately trying to locate the thief who snatched his expensive watch merely to perceive multiple times in a variety of filtered reminders that it was he himself who misplaced his timepiece. It served well as a metaphor for that title character to be out of time, and indeed place.

Jonathan Pryce Photo credit © Joan Marcus

Here, in this new excursion into the labyrinth of dislocated recollections we’ve the character, Andre,  a writer of considerable renown and into his eighth decade being visited by his two daughters in the vast country house,”not far from Paris”, with which he’s shared with his wife of fifty years.  Andre is portrayed by the extraordinary Jonathan Pryce. His wife, Madeleine, is played by the equally estimable Eileen Atkins. The combined experiential knowledge of these two players in years alone would well exceed a century and it is for this reason, among others, dear reader, that you should visit this couple as soon as you can to hear and behold how they tell M. Zeller’s story of married loyalty, love, and life.

Zeller’s peculiar perspective on the nuances of just what the mind realizes what we refer to as “reality” has the equally compelling and disturbing aspects of dreams, nightmares, and questionable acid trips. The playwright has a unique ability to convey to an audience just how confusing life can become to one accustomed to clarity seasonedwith wit. What is the context here? What just happened? Who died? And, as my theater going companion last Friday night soundly questioned: “Whose Death IS it, Anyway?”

Eileen Atkins Photo credit © Joan Marcus

All of this is ably framed by the direction of Jonathan Kent and his highly effective designers of costumes, set, and sound. Scenic and Costume Design are by Anthony Ward, with Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone, and Sound Designs by Paul Groothuis.  The play also features Lucy Cohu, Amanda Drew, James Hilier, and Lisa O’Hare.

The daughters, initially Anne (Amanda Drew, a credible player to be sure, but one I wish would SPEAK UP so an auditor of healthy ears could hear her clearly from the tenth row), is organizing her father’s papers to glean, if possible, yet to be published gems from this man reputed to be a literary genius. It appears from her behavior and touching emotional responses to her father that there has most certainly been a death;  one of immeasurable significance in the family. We then meet Madeleine, her mother, and the three characters interact in so seeming a natural way that the above-mentioned confusion as to who recently passed is very much the puzzle the playwright has assigned every audience member who’s endeavoring to pay close attention. This puzzle is augmented by our meeting the younger daughter, Elise(an engaging Lisa O’Hare), the more overtly attractive sister but somewhat less sympathetic as a character than Anne. Elise has her lover, “The Man” (an appropriately enigmatic James Hillier) in tow for half the weekend before his real estate dealings compels him to hastily depart from the funereal surroundings. That this character’s profession is in real estate causes considerable upset to Andre and invokes something of a fit at one point as his place overall seems to be desperately in question.

Eileen Atkins & Jonathan Pryce Photo credit © Hugo Glendenning

Before we meet this lover of the second daughter an equally enigmatic female simply called ,”The Woman”  is at first referred to Andre who reacts with a refutation of the woman’s report that they’ve known each other for years among mutual friends. When she arrives in a subsequent scene, she (Lucy Cohu) relates her shared history with Andre who cannot corroborate her account at first, yet grasps at wisps of recollections that prove to be all the more frustrating. All the while during the 80 uninterrupted minutes of the play, Madeleine does her best to maintain some semblance of peace and protection for her muddled husband. She’s a no-nonsense mother to both daughters and her priority for the welfare of Andre is made self-evident.

One of my all-time favorite lines from Robert Bolt’s play and film, A Man for All Seasons is Thomas More’s to his friend, Norfolk : ” I trust I’ve made myself obscure.”

Eileen Atkins & Jonathan Pryce Photo credit © Joan Marcus

To avoid spoilers that would preclude the stimulation of solving the puzzles Zeller provides his public is my aim and necessity in invoking the above quote. Suffice it to reiterate that the two lead actors who’ve accumulated enough accolades on both sides of the pond to fulfill a National Theatre utterly warrants your attendance to experience the mastery of stagecraft they display with every utterance, movement, and loving interaction. I trust I’ve made myself in that, crystal clear.

For tickets and additional information go to the Manhattan Theatre Club Website

                              

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