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Man and Boy (10/09/2011 - 11/27/2011)


AP: "Langella shines again on Broadway in Man and Boy"

Bernard Madoff's massive multi-decade fraud was shocking indeed, but hardly new.

That sad fact is instantly recognizable in a timely new Broadway revival of Terence Rattigan's "Man and Boy" that opened Sunday at the American Airlines Theatre starring Frank Langella.

Langella plays an arrogant, manipulative financial giant whose elaborate Ponzi scheme is unraveling, a character that Rattigan based on a real-life business man during the Depression but seems to presage Madoff.

The Roundabout Theatre Company has cannily chosen to honor the centenary of Rattigan's birth with the first Broadway revival of the play since the original flopped in London and on Broadway in 1963. Director Maria Aitken — who also directed a revival of the play in London in 2005 starring David Suchet — has reconstructed it, using some earlier drafts.

What emerges is a somewhat clunky and sometimes limp seven-character play about the complicated relationship between fathers and sons that gets a surge of electricity whenever Langella — at his fussy, oily best — appears. Yet so strongly does the actor loom that he threatens to destabilize the production.

Langella plays Gregor Antonescu, who has fled to the grubby Greenwich Village apartment of his estranged son, Basil, as authorities circle his financial empire. He needs to pull off one big deal to keep his world from crumbling. His son — who he admits is his "conscience" — is just a means to an end.

"Love is a commodity I can't afford," the older man says.

Antonescu needs the co-operation of a secretly homosexual businessman (a wonderful Zach Grenier) and begins by sweet talking his way through the various holes in his balance sheet to his rival's accountant (Brian Hutchison). He then manipulates the other businessman into believing that his 23-year-old son is his lover — and then pimps him out, a moment so shocking that Laurence Olivier refused to perform it.

All this should produce an explosive showdown with Antonescu's son, who five years previously had fired a gun at his father and stormed out when realizing that daddy dearest was just a common swindler. Basil has hidden his past, changed his name and become a piano player in a nightclub.

But Basil (Adam Driver, working hard in an underwritten part) is frighteningly passive, pathetically seeking his father's love even in the face of all the lies and manipulation. His backbone disappears and he develops a stammer in his father's presence.

Langella even mocks his son for his endless admiration: "Dear God, what a boy! Isn't there anything I can do to kill it?" His son responds: "No. Not anything. But why do you have to try?"

If the playwright was trying to tease out the emotionally damaged terrain of sons who cannot stop looking up to their flawed fathers, the result is not exactly what Rattigan intended: You may begin rooting for Antonescu, a devil perhaps, but one who is imbued with Langella's charisma and grace. He has the best lines, after all, and he's a force of nature, while all around him is meekishness. As the other characters slowly desert him, Antonescu does what he always does: takes charge.

The rest of the supporting cast is made up of Francesca Faridany, who plays Antonescu's wife with chatty aplomb; Virginia Kull, who nicely plays Basil's girlfriend; and Michael Siberry, who is wonderfully officious as Antonescu's assistant.

The single set by Derek McLane — a grubby basement apartment complete with hissing radiator — is marred somewhat by the attempt to carve out a bedroom separate from the living room. The walls, though, simply get lost in the layout and the eye gets confused.

Aitken and the cast do an admirable job — Langella in his final scene even shows he does indeed care about his son by lingering over a photograph of the two together — but Rattigan's story has an unfinished quality to it. The playwright has done a masterful job of creating a monster, but not given us a reason to hate him.


New York Daily News: "Man and Boy"

We've reasonably come to expect dramatic fireworks when Frank Langella acts on Broadway.

But even a triple Tony-winning powerhouse can't make damp gunpowder flash and ignite.

And "Man and Boy" — a melodrama of high finance and low morals — is packed with the stuff.

Terence Rattigan, a popular English dramatist known for works about troubled upper-middleclass lives, wrote the play in 1963.

It follows Gregor Antonescu (Langella), a wealthy worldfamous Romanian financier whose chicanery catches up with him in 1934.

He has built a mega-empire onlies and bogus balance sheets and could care less about all the people he's destroyed in the process.

In one of Rattigan's sharpest lines, the titan's right-hand man, Sven (Michael Siberry), puts it this way: "To be bad, you must at least have some idea of what badness is."

To save his skin, Gregor visits his son, Vassily (Adam Driver), who disowned him five years earlier and now plays piano in a club near his grubby apartment in Greenwich Village (ace work by set designer Derek McLane).

It's easy to see how the Bernie Madoff-like character was catnip to the Roundabout Theatre Company, but topicality doesn't assure dramatics.

The talky first act grinds along more than it grabs. An extended conversation between Vassily (who calls himself Basil) and his girlfriend, Carol (Virginia Kull), is all about revealing his love-hate relationship with his dad.

The mere mention of Gregor makes Basil stammer in an obvious dose of foreshadowing.

The production directed by Maria Aitken ("39 Steps") at last snaps to life with the arrival of Mark Herries (Zach Grenier, expertly oily), who's waffl ing on a deal that could give Gregor the liquidity he needs to survive.

Basil's role in the scheme that his father has engineered slowly becomes clear.

While the terrifically perverse plan lacks credibility, it does speak volumes about what Gregor is capable of.

Driver, seen recently on Broadway in "Mrs. Warren's Profession," holds his own against his formidable stage father. Save for a sometimes dodgy English accent, he gives a credible performance that conveys Basil's conflicted feelings.

Langella, as usual, cuts a commandingfi gure, though the best thing about his star turn is found in his fine-tuned unspoken touches.

They come, for instance, when Gregor keeps his wife (a too fevered and one-note Francesca Faridany) at arm's length, casually brushes off Herries' lacky accountant(Brian Hutchison) and strikes a pose intended to misrepresent.

Each gesture feels completely natural and provide tiny flashes of brilliance.

No, not exactly pyrotechnics, but they'll do in a pinch.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "Frankly, Langella's co-star can't keep up"

No wonder Frank Langella makes off with the Roundabout’s new revival of “Man and Boy”: He’s playing a crook, after all.

As Gregor Antonescu -- a silver-haired, silver-tongued speculator who cons men and cooks books -- Langella turns the creaky 1963 drama by Terence Rattigan (“The Deep Blue Sea”) into a master class in suave villainy.

At least the “Man” part of the title is in great hands -- because the “Boy” bit is a problem.

In the role of Antonescu’s son, poor Adam Driver looks like a deer in headlights. This disparity between the leads throws the whole show, directed by Maria Aitken (“The 39 Steps”), off balance 

Driver’s Vassily is so alienated from his dad that he once fired a gun at him, then moved from England to America and changed his name to Basil Anthony. He now lives in a ratty basement apartment in Greenwich Village -- a dicey neighborhood in 1934, when the play takes place.

The pair haven’t seen each other in the five years since the shooting, but Gregor’s back is against the wall: His empire is about to crumble, and he’s thought up a fiendish escape scheme that involves Basil’s unwitting collaboration.

Now in his early 20s, Basil has a job playing the piano at a bar, and a nice girlfriend, Carol (Virginia Kull), but he seems restless, unhappy. The unexpected visit reveals a deeply troubled man, both fascinated and repelled by his father’s actions.

At least that’s the way Basil is written. The only thing Driver communicates is a stubborn glumness.

Driver’s miscasting is particularly glaring in the first act, when Gregor basically pimps out Basil to an industrialist who could save his bacon.

Antonescu Sr. has learned that powerful Mark Herries (Zach Grenier) is “known to have literary leanings.” To win his sympathy, he implies he’s gay himself, and introduces Basil not as his son but as his boy toy.

Problem is, Driver isn’t credible as bait for a lustful older man -- especially wearing a sour expression and a puffy shirt that makes him look like one of Xavier Cugat’s conga players.

Thankfully, Langella swoops in. That scene, in which little is expressed openly, is catnip to him, and he wrings innuendo out of the most innocuous lines.

“Now you have the truth,” he tells Herries, wrapping himself around the back of the couch like a cashmere throw.

Grenier and especially Michael Siberry, terrific as Antonescu’s shifty confidant, give excellent support, but there are too many stretches when Langella is left to fend for himself.

Too bad: “Man and Boy” isn’t a great play, but with equal sparring partners, it could have been a very good show.

New York Post

New York Times: "The Art of Wreaking Havoc With Other People's Money"

When Frank Langella plays good, he’s fine; but when he’s bad, he’s a wonder. Having ditched the halo he wore as the sainted Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons” in 2008, Mr. Langella — the only actor to star on Broadway as both Dracula and Richard Nixon — has stepped back into the dark side in style. And this time he’s a villain that New York audiences should really love to hate: a soulless financier who wreaks havoc with other people’s money.

I heard the name Bernard Madoffspoken more than once at intermission in the lobby of the American Airlines Theater, where Maria Aitken’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1963 drama “Man and Boy” opened on Sunday night. And it may partly be topical parallels that prompted the Roundabout Theater Company to restage this lesser Rattigan work, which is set in 1934 and inspired by the spectacular fall of Ivar Krueger, an international business magnate of that era.

But the main raison d’être of this production — and the one compelling reason to see it — is the occasion it gives its star to explore the pathology of power. Few performers are as good as Mr. Langella at using an actor’s instinctive narcissism to capture the egomania that fuels (and sometimes topples) the wildly successful.

Sporting big, 1930s-style shoulders on which the weight of the world seems to sit like a random feather and using an unplaceable Continental accent, Mr. Langella is Gregor Antonescu, a “Romanian-born radio and oil king” known as “the so-called savior and mystery man of Europe.” We hear a lot about him before he makes his delayed entrance. The fate of stock markets around the world, it seems, rests on the outcome of a dicey merger he’s involved in.

After a buildup like that, most actors might feel a little sheepish about even showing up. But Mr. Langella luxuriates in the moment, framed in the doorway of a shabby basement apartment and looking like destiny itself in his face-shadowing fedora. “Confidence and liquidity,” his character will say later, is the key to staying afloat in business. And Mr. Langella translates those watchwords into acting that more or less erases everyone else in view.

In this sense Mr. Langella serves both his role and the play. Rattigan created only one fully defined character here. And Ms. Aitken’s production, though deftly paced, can’t disguise the paucity of this Freudian love-story manqué of an estranged father and child.

Gregor, you see, has a son, though most people assume said offspring has been dead for five years. In truth Vassily (Adam Driver) is alive, living under the assumed name of Basil Anthony in the squalor of Greenwich Village. That’s where Gregor — dogged by the press and perhaps the police as well — seeks sanctuary on one cold, damp night. Which means Basil, now a grown man who never grew up (and played by Mr. Driver as an anguished drip), will finally have to confront the legacy of the father he worships and detests.

Rattigan (1911-1977) specialized in what he called “le vice Anglais,” which was not, he said, “pederasty or flagellation” but “the inability of the English to express emotion.” For two decades, starting in the mid-1930s, he used this national shortcoming as the basis for a string of plays (“Separate Tables” remains the best known) that made him the king of the West End.

When the quiet theatrical charms of lip-biting stoics were eclipsed by the bluster of John Osborne’s angry young men in the 1950s, Rattigan’s reputation took a blow from which he never recovered. But the 21st century has seen a Rattigan renaissance, with widespread critical reappraisal of his gifts for conveying fraught subtext and frequent London revivals of his work.

“Man and Boy” is not on a level with his “After the Dance” (1939), which was given a superb production at the National Theater in London last year, or “The Deep Blue Sea” (1952), which has been adapted as a new film starring Rachel Weisz. Written when Rattigan was all too conscious of being perceived as old-fashioned, “Man and Boy” is an uneasy mix of daring plot gimmicks and synthetically silky dialogue.

True, there is a grungy kitchen sink in Derek McLane’s impeccably shabby set, and the play begins with the 1960s frankness of Basil and his girlfriend, Carol (Virginia Kull), basking in a postcoital glow. But the characters who intrude on their bohemian idyll bring with them a whiff of jet-setting, Vetiver-scented worldliness. (That aroma also permeated Rattigan’s screenplays of the same period for “The V.I.P.s” and “The Yellow Rolls-Royce,” portraits of the lifestyles of the rich and unhappy.)

The visitors include Sven Johnson (Michael Siberry, enjoying himself), Gregor’s thuggish but devoted aide-de-camp, and Gregor’s tinny, overdecorated wife (Francesca Faridany, looking like Wallis Simpson). Then there is Mark Herries (Zach Grenier), an American business tycoon with an inconvenient secret life, and his too-eager accountant (Brian Hutchison). They are callow men compared with the Mephistophelean Gregor, who plays them as if they were pinball machines.

When Basil and Carol talk probingly about his emotional distance or his ambivalence toward his father, “Man and Boy” feels embarrassingly dated. (Much dime-store psychology must be spoken by the appealing Ms. Kull, who does what she can to muffle its creaks.) Even the climactic standoff between Basil and Gregor feels dictated by a yellowing textbook diagram from another age.

It’s in Gregor himself that you detect Rattigan’s masterly hand for shaping situations that propel plot as they define character. The ever-charming Gregor is, in a sense, the playwright and director of his own world (and, he might argue, the world at large). His strategic use of everyone around him — picking up on other people’s useful turns of phrase, morphing casual conversation into implicit blackmail — draws a portrait of the businessman as an all-controlling, fiction-spinning artist.

For Gregor the game’s the thing, or to be precise, winning the game. And without oversignaling, Mr. Langella lets us see Gregor assessing all that crosses his line of vision as a potential weapon. That includes his son. And this production’s most shocking moment (though you realize it only in retrospect) comes when Basil’s rejection of his father’s embrace gives Gregor his big idea for conquering Herries, the tycoon.

Such reflexive exploitation of one’s own child should in theory be repellent. But Mr. Langella exudes an intensity of focus that, as long as we’re watching him, trumps any moral considerations. “To be bad you must have at least some idea of what badness is,” Sven tells his employer. That Gregor doesn’t have a clue is his strength. That we believe this, and remain in his thrall, is Mr. Langella’s personal triumph.

New York Times

Newsday: "Langella riveting in cheesy Man and Boy"

More than three decades ago, Frank Langella began toying with us -- in a most serious way -- about the unnerving seductiveness of evil. Long before today's celebrity vampires, Langella heated up Broadway with a Dracula so beautiful that actresses in Victorian frocks lined up to present him their jugulars.

Now, here he is, 73, with three Tony Awards and much less hair, playing even more mercilessly with our sympathy for a devil. In "Man and Boy," the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Terence Rattigan's little-known 1963 curiosity, Langella is riveting -- and a lot of fun to watch -- as a far more timely and despicable villain: a global financier without a conscience.

Clearly Rattigan, the late English playwright being rediscovered in London during his centennial, believed he wrote a devastating father-son sociopolitical drama about a revered but crooked Romanian titan on the night before his Ponzi scheme collapses. The year is 1934, but the panic should feel so fresh to us now, it sweats.

Alas, the play is a pulpy melodrama -- not boring, exactly, but tabloid-style, junk-food entertainment tied together with improbabilities, smartly-crafted retorts and a gay plot point that must have been genuinely daring at the time.

Maria Aitken, who staged the bravura-noir send-up "39 Steps," has dressed the well-cast revival with menacing shadows, impeccably-fitting gowns and as much suspense as the script allows.

We are in the shabby two-room basement apartment in Greenwich Village where the man's socialist, alcoholic, musician son (Adam Driver) has lived in the years since he broke ties with the father he loves and loathes.

The pursued power-broker and his slick assistant (Michael Siberry) show up to hide in the flat and to host a crucial meeting with the president of American Electric (Zach Grenier) and his whistle-blowing accountant (Brian Hutchison).

The son's oddly forthright girlfriend (Virginia Kull) is an actress in a federally-funded theater project. The father's wife (Francesca Faridany) is a fake countess with no illusions about her function.

The critical relationship between father and son strains for Ibsenesque revelation. In lieu of anything near that, we get to watch Langella demonstrate how much a master can communicate with the weary flick of a cigarette and deliver sophisticated, horrifying lines as if words actually leave their tastes in his mouth. Dare you to take your eyes off him.


Variety: "Man and Boy"

Frank Langella was born to play fabulous monsters like Richard Nixon, Count Dracula, and now, Gregor Antonescu, the international financier beset by ruinous scandal in Terence Rattigan's 1963 drama, "Man and Boy." Play is set during the Great Depression, but feels eerily contemporary in its cynical portrayal of industry barons who think nothing of robbing the innocent and endangering the economy with their reckless power games. Secondary roles are exceptionally well cast in Maria Aitken's well-oiled production, providing solid support for Langella's suave and superbly nuanced perf of a towering figure teetering on the edge of a moral precipice.

Where would a respected public figure like Gregor Antonescu (Langella) run for cover when his criminal shenanigans are exposed and his financial empire seems on the verge of collapse? Why, to the Greenwich Village apartment of his estranged son, of course.

As the world reels from the shocking news that this Romanian-born titan of industry ("the one who rescued Europe after the war") has been caught out in a business scandal that could spell ruin, Gregor shows up at the basement apartment (a bit too squalid, in Derek McLane's grim set design) of his bo-ho son. This disaffected youth, who calls himself "Basil Anthony" (Adam Driver), is high-strung to begin with. But Driver's artful perf deftly pushes him to the limits of his sanity and pretty much dares him to step off that cliff.

Rattigan works the father-son dynamic with subtle skill, using the contradictions of their strained relationship to keep the outcome of their awkward reunion in a state of unresolved tension. Driver makes the most of Basil's conflicted love-hate feelings for his coolly distant father. Typically inconsistent, he expresses contempt for Gregor as a capitalist criminal, and then shows touching concern for him in his present exhausted state.

Langella is almost wicked in the way that he allows Gregor to toy with his son's affections, professing paternal love even as he prepares to use him as a pawn. And when a genuine feeling stirs in his own breast, he slaps it away by declaring that, "love is a commodity I can't afford."

Although the core of the play lies in the fraught relationship between father and son, the dramatic thrills come from Gregor's devilishly clever schemes to save his sinking fortune and avoid criminal prosecution.

Drawing himself up to his full height (and striking a fine figure in the elegant suit designed by Martin Pakledinaz), Langella slips into the role of this master manipulator with the serpentine grace that defines his performance style. The eyebrow elevates, the lips twist into a sneer, and the silken voice becomes a noose from which there is no escape.

In one dazzling scene, Gregor goes to work on the industry mogul (played with foxy intelligence by Zach Grenier) who blew the whistle on a crooked business deal and the alert accountant (innocence under fire in Brian Hutchison's forthright perf) who uncovered the fraud. Through the application of guile, charm, deceit, intimidation, and blackmail, Gregor and his loyal assistant (the excellent Michael Siberry, in menacing mode) destroy the accountant and thoroughly bamboozle the businessman.

That's the showiest trick that Gregor pulls off, but it's not the only one he's got up his sleeve. There are still shady business accounts to settle, and the Countess Antonescu (Francesca Faridany, stepping out with confidence in a gorgeous travel costume) to con out of some quick cash. Even at the hour of reckoning, when Gregor finally speaks the truth, his victims would rather have more of his fantastic lies.


USA Today: "Frank Langella is the 'Man,' and it shows"

You've got to wonder what the protesters marching on Wall Street would make of Man and Boy, the play being revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Terence Rattigan's 1963 work focuses on one Gregor Antonescu, a Depression-era financier on the verge of being exposed in a scandal that's already making national headlines. His response is to dream up one last desperate, dastardly scheme, involving the unwitting assistance of his son.

It would be a tall order to make Gregor sympathetic to any audience, let alone one held captive to the real-life socioeconomic drama of recent years. Luckily, this production, which opened Sunday at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre, has a miracle worker in Frank Langella, whose predictably sumptuous performance mitigates not only Gregor's ickiness but the play's shortcomings.

Man is set in the Greenwich Village basement apartment of 23-year-old Basil Anthony, born Vassily Antonescu, who has disavowed his father along with his name. A self-described socialist, Basil ekes out a living playing piano. He agrees to let his father visit one night, and soon he has been enlisted to help him soften up a potential key business partner with secrets of his own. Basil's reaction to that encounter and an unexpected news development force Gregor to confront the damage his selfish actions have wrought.

Director Maria Aitken and her cast steer Man's course nimbly, keeping the humor brisk and managing the pathos with delicate conviction. Adam Driver convincingly shows us Basil's pure heart; yet for all Gregor's protestations that his son is soft, the actor never lets us mistake his character's earnest idealism for spinelessness.

Michael Siberry exudes a witty stoicism as Sven, Gregor's devoted sidekick, while Zach Grenier and Brian Hutchison have amusing turns as, respectively, a smug tycoon and his combustible accountant.

It's ultimately Langella's show, though. His Gregor comes on as icy-smooth as Dracula. But as his fortunes threaten to crumble, the actor lets that facade dissolve, subtly and masterfully. This mogul is a complicated man who never appears entirely defeated.

"Never, in the future, let the truth make you cry," Gregor tells Basil in a particularly dark moment. It's a bit of practical advice that seems as timely as ever at this juncture.

USA Today

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