The Height of the Storm
On stage, we see both Mom (Laurie Thomas) and Dad (Paul Blott). Sometimes together, sometimes solo with the kids. When only Mom is on the stage, the kids are helping her with the death of Dad. When only Dad is on the stage, the daughters awkwardly help him recognize that Mom is gone, though they never come right out and say it–partly because he has slipped into dementia.
The playwright is Florian Zeller, the author of the play and movie The Father, a story of a man's slow decline into dementia. There seems to be a pattern here. If The Father was about a father's rough road into dementia, The Height of the Storm is about the accompanying family. That is, except for the lingering question: who died, Mom or Dad?
This is also a love story. When both parents are on stage, they exude the affection and acceptance of decades together. They're empty-nesters now and glad of it. Their daughters are prickly, needy, and discontent–and they don't get along. The parents are the most demonstrative of their love when the kids are not on stage. Yet even when the kids leave, a piece of luggage remains on stage.
We get two visitors to this home, an old friend of Dad's (Angela Littleton), who insinuates that she is the mother of a son belonging to Andre, and Paul (Matthew Yde), the boyfriend of one of the daughters. Yde shows up earlier in the play as an undefined character who is not Paul. He spends most of this time in the kitchen sharpening a knife as the family moves through its struggles. Is he an angel, as one audience member suggested? Or is he the Grim Reaper? His presence seems more menace than grace.
This is a difficult play to watch. As with The Father, Zeller doesn't do much to make us love these characters. Plus, the narrative is fragmented by a mix of possible stories depending on which of the characters might be dead. Are the daughters trying to ease Mom into a life without Dad? Or are they trying to get Andre to move out of the home now that Mom is gone? There's no point-of-view character, so we're not really pulling for anyone, and with all his dementia, Andre isn't himself any longer, so it's hard to care what happens to him.
The play is loaded with small symbols of storms and birds and knives and baggage. They don't seem to coalesce into overall meaning, but they do manage to haunt the drama. The symbols deliver some needed warmth in a play with loads of static. They carry us to the conclusion, leaving the characters in a far better place than expected.
This is a strong cast that brings together many of Albuquerque's best actors. They all deliver well. Laurie Thomas as Madeleine is more than outstanding. As a co-founder of the Fusion Theatre, I've seen many of her performances. Never have I seen her this vibrant and alive. When she's on stage you can't take your eyes off her.
The play is directed by Fusion co-founder Jacqueline Reid. She is always sure-handed in her direction, always probing for the deep underbelly of the material. As usual, she hits the mark with ease.
As with virtually every Fusion play, the production crew is excellent. Maria Lee Schmidt has stepped in as stage manager, Robyn Phillips is property manager, Tucker Topel takes care of scenic design, Lucas Zuniga covers lighting design, Ashley Miller does costumes, Chad Scheer covers sound, and Dave Weirdly is master carpenter and scenic artist.
The Height of the Storm runs through November 19, 2023, at the theatre across the parking lot from the Cell on 1st St NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. General admission is $40. For seniors over 65 tickets are $35. For students tickets are $20. For tickets and information, please call 505-766-9412 or visit fusionnm.org.