Published in the Guardian Dundee Rep (seen at the Tron, Glasgow) Four stars
THERE is only a short distance between Dr Louis Bennett and his elderly father, Don, but the men are separated by a voyage of Homeric proportions. They've been estranged for 15 years and, after the old man has been found wandering in the rain, Louis has returned to this self-built house in Ontario to care for him. He says it's more out of common humanity than filial affection.
Justin Young's three-hander, produced by Dundee Rep as part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games' cultural programme, looks as though it's going to be another sentimental play about dementia, but it turns out to be a good deal more sophisticated. Don is losing his memory and is keeping Flora Thompson, who's newly arrived from the care agency, fully occupied. But In My Father's Words is actually about memory, identity and sacrifice – and the near impossibility of true communication.
In an odd side-effect of his condition, Angus Peter Campbell's Don has started speaking Gaelic (translation by Iain Finlay Macleod), a language coincidentally shared by Muireann Kelly's Flora. So while Louis (Lewis Howden) lectures on the theme of memory at the University of Toronto and struggles to translate the 12,000 lines of Homer's Odyssey, the story of one man's quest to get home, his own father is drifting ever further away from him.
In this respect, the play mirrors Hollywood's obsession with ambitious sons and dysfunctional fathers (think everything from Star Wars to Ratatouille, but Young has richer things to say about the trauma of cultural separation and the irreplaceable poetry of dead and minority languages. The ending is abrupt and the scene changes could be more elegant, but Philip Howard's strongly acted production bridges the gulf between the domestic and the mythological as it shows two men standing on "two sides of the same rain".