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It Was Always, Always You, Frank Langella

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So sue me; there’s no way I can write objectively about a man I’ve loved for so long. Thank the Lord I don’t have to. If you love theater, or even if you think you might like it under the right circumstances, you owe it to yourself to see The Master at work in Man And Boy.

The play itself is pretty dreary. A lesser work by Terence Rattigan which first hit the boards in 1963, it’s given a second chance at life mainly because it is now bizarrely topical. Gregor Antonescu (Frank Langella) is a major financier who has cheated, lied, and schemed his way to a fortune, not caring whom he’s hurt along the way. When you remember what happened to Bernie Madoff’s son Mark, the ending here is bitterly ironic. Set during the depths of the depression in 1934, Man and Boy rings a few other bells for these economically distressed times, too.

Strangest of all is the fact that since the heinous crimes of dictator Nicolae Ceausecu were revealed, Americans now find the mere mention of Romania vaguely sinister. Langella plays to the hilt the role of the untrustworthy foreigner, who slides by on his charm and cleverness, caring nothing about the havoc he wreaks on anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in his web of intrigue.

The staging isn’t the greatest. It takes a while to realize that in the opening scene, we are looking at a bedroom which later will be revealed to have an invisible wall facing the audience.

The convention doesn’t quite work here. There’s also a brief nude scene which seems totally gratuitous. It also serves to take the audience out of the moment. Virginia Kull is a fine actress; as nice as her tush is, there seems to be no reason that relates to her character, Carol, for it to be exposed.

Adam Driver does the best job possible with the role of Antonescu’s estranged son Basil. It’s not a very well written part, and the major switch in his feelings toward his father half way through the play seems far- fetched. He’s not particularly sympathetic for a number of other reasons; he’s clearly a jerk because he resists marrying Carol, who is obviously smarter and more desirable than he is. Driver is well cast as Langella’s son. He’s tall, dark, and has a strong voice.

Zach Grenier ably plays his role as Mark Herries, the man with a secret, who’s determined to bring down Antonescu. Also the perfect foil, Michael Siberry lets us see Antonescu’s right hand man and lackey, Sven Johnson, grow a pair right before our eyes. Who knew he could be as calculating as the boss he seemingly would follow into hell? Francesca Faridany gives Antonescu’s wife, “the Countess,” as much appeal and humanity as possible in a role that’s basically a cardboard cutout of the nouveau riche lady from a humble background.

But without dispute, the evening belongs to Langella. Throughout his career, he has provided fans with memorable moments; the quick glance at the audience as he prepared to bite the neck of his victim as Dracula being the most famous. Here, as he seductively leans to convey his unspoken message to lure in his nemesis Herries, the word that comes to mind is louche; another Langella moment that won’t be forgotten. Fourth Tony, anyone?

The main gripe I have with this production is that Langella doesn’t make an entrance—and yes, it’s a good one, framed in a doorway—until well into the first act. It’s hard to concentrate on the less than stellar dialogue that precedes his arrival on the scene. When he finally appears, he looks just splendid. No more the baggy schmatta and shorn pate from 2008’s A Man For All Seasons, but instead, a spiffy suit, and to go with it, snow white hair, carefully clipped.

There’s a moment at the end of the evening for which all the faithful pine. This is the famous Langella bow, now modified to a quick salute and a smile that could single handedly light The Great White Way. Here is revealed the secret of why his fans have worshiped and supported him through the years. No one loves performing more than Frank Langella. He’s great in the movies, but on the Broadway stage, he is nothing short of magnificent. And we, his devotees for decades, feel the love he radiates when he hears our applause and sees us leaping to our feet as he takes his curtain call. We will follow him anywhere, and well he knows it.

Pardon my mush.

Photos by Joan Marcus, from top:
1. Frank Langella
2. Virginia Kull and Frank Langella
3. Frank Langella and Ada Driver
4. (l-r) Adam Driver, Frank Langella, Michael Siberry, and Zach Grenier

Man and Boy
American Airlines Theatre
Roundabout Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
212-719-1300
Through November 27, 2011

Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.

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