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The Height of the Storm

Posted 9/26/2019

The Height of the Storm reviewed  by Fern Siegel for

  Reality and memory, life and death shift in The Height of the Storm, starring the incomparable Eileen Atkins and a masterful Jonathan Pryce.

Now on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman, after a successful London run, the tense drama by Florian Zeller is both heartbreaking and disorienting.  A family saga, it’s unclear which spouse is alive or dead, given that dementia is an issue.

“You think people are dead, but it’s not always the case,” Andre muses.

Perceptions are altered; subjectivity reigns. Andre (Pryce) is a celebrated author who veers between alertness and despair, while his efficient, solid-to-the-core wife Madeleine (Atkins), promises she will always be there for him.

That’s a promise her daughters Elise (Lisa O’Hare) and Anne (Amanda Drew) counted — or are counting — on.

It takes time to sort out specifics; meantime, the story shifts into practical concerns. Should the big house be sold? Is a realtor coming? What should happen to Andre’s unpublished works? And who is the mysterious woman claiming to know Andre as a younger man?

There is something ghostly, yet sad, in the portrait of a long marriage and the prospect of living without a beloved mate.  There is also the hint of infidelity, though like much of the thin story line, it’s obscured by the inability to determine what is real.

Yes, the daughters have legitimate worries, and the parents remain somewhat combative. They don’t want their independence curtailed — even if it seems inevitable. But how do children navigate the tricky waters of aging, infirmed parents?

Zeller’s 80-minute play is confusing at times. It addresses genuinely difficult circumstances, which are forever shifting. But there is also a strange hypnotic quality to watching two superb actors — Atkins and Pryce — command a stage.  —Fern Siegel