The Unknown Bird

The writer André (Jonathan Pryce) has recently lost his wife, Madeleine (Eileen Atkins), and appears to be losing some of his memory, too. His daughters (Amanda Drew and Lisa O’Hare) are home to sort through the house and sort through the past, hoping perhaps to convince their father to move into a retirement home. Or rather, it’s André who is dead and Madeleine who is left with the pieces. In Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, two parallel narratives unfold simultaneously: in one, husband mourns wife, in the other, wife mourns husband. In both, however, a mysterious woman (Lucy Cohu) appears with a story about André that none of the women have heard before.

While formally promising (these twin scenarios must play constantly in the minds of aging lovers), the substance of The Height of the Storm is rather safe and unadventurous. Despite their best efforts, powerhouse leads like Pryce and Atkins cannot elevate the humdrum material, which is replete with predicable bourgeois peccadilloes and the now-standard long-buried family secrets. By the time we hear the title of the play spoken by one of its characters—quoting the poet René Char, no less—we are well-assured that what we have just seen is a profoundly ordinary expression of upper-middle-class malaise.

The Height of the Storm runs through November 24th at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.  254 W. 54th Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 30 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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