“The Height Of The Storm”
In Old Age.
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Plays about old age can vary significantly; from “Waverly Gallery” to “On Golden Pond”, it can be sad, humorous, devastating or confusing. With great acting in in this play, it is still the later that is “The Height Of The Storm”. The audience is never sure what is going on throughout the performance. We grapple with the death of either the husband Andre (Johnathan Pryce), or his wife Madeline (Eileen Atkins). Never sure where the show will take us, we watch these two legends perform magnificently.
Reminiscent of a Pinter play I recently saw “Betrayal”, “The Height Of The Storm” brings an edginess too it. Like Pinter, writer Florian Zeller has us guessing in a bad way as to what this story is about and where it will take us. Given dribs and drabs about this great writer, his life, and his wife and family, Zeller never takes us deep enough to be emotionally involved. Never fully understanding his two daughters, Zeller is not forthcoming as to what they want from their father ; never any real warmth with the mother or with each other. Shrouded in mystery the play only moves forward in time, not in any unfolding or progression in plot.
“The Height Of The Storm” has a lot of good things working for it, however. Anthony Ward’s scenic design is a gentile- country house setting that is wonderful. Johnathan Kent does a fabulous job directing a great cast that interacts as best they can with a poor script. It is a rare treat seeing Kent direct in the United States; mostly in England, Kent is regarded as one of the better stage directors of our time. His direction brilliantly brings out what Andre is going through, his dementia, his quivering hand that comes from old age. Andre’s endless inquisitiveness is from being a writer of note, the main reason that his diary is riffled through by his daughter Anne, a writer herself who gave up on the profession practically before she started.
In a suspense play like “The Height Of The Storm” the audience usually has a lot of twists and turns. This play only has one… did Andre die? Did his wife? Did both die? Did neither one die? Aside from this great mystery that after a while is one we begin not to care about, the show has no real redeeming qualities. Andre has had an affair, his wife we never really get to know about, that only she was the organizer of the family. Andre was about his writing and nothing else much really mattered to him. We know vaguely that Anne is having marital problems and that Elise has had many boyfriends in the past. Kent brings all of these people together and put forth the best he can all the characters needs and wants, even with this uneven script, he is able to eek out some small emotion between actors.
In the performance as Andre, Johnathan Pryce is worth the price of admission. Pryce gives a clinic on what it is to be a stage actor. His movements to his words are extraordinary. Like Elaine May in “Waverly Gallery”, it is difficult to play a person with dementia, at least it seems so. Pryce shakes, he gets angry, he is loving and aloof all in the same sentence. As a man who wishes for younger days (never really exploited in this play), Pryce fires through his lines commanding respect of his daughters. Although there are times when he seems out of it, he has moments when he is thinking clearly and is as sharp as a tack. He questions the people who surrounds him as a lawyer who knows the question before he asks it.
“In The Height Of The Storm” has everything that a good Broadway show needs: good costumes, great set with very good lighting. With two great actors to anchor the show, all that was needed was a decent script and the show would have been a hit. Unfortunately the only thing that was memorable (aside from Pryce and Atkins), was at the very end when we are left seeing Pryce all alone up on the stage as the light fades on him and what he has to say as we bid him farewell.