Man and Boy

by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Maria Aitken
Featuring Frank Langella
American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street
September 9, 2011 — November 27, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 21, 2011

(L-R) Adam Driver, Frank Langella, Michael Siberry, Zach Grenier. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Young adult son and overbearing businessman father.  World finance and youthful idealism.  Outrageous wealth and bohemian basement apartment.  Sexual politics of the homosexual and of the marital kind.  Themes come in pairs and other multiples in Terence Rattigan‘s Man and Boy, just concluding a healthy run at the Roundabout Theatre Company‘s American Arilines Theatre.  While some of these themes creak and crack a bit in today’s playing of a several decades old script — sexual mores have morphed and financial collapses have occurred since this play was written when the Great Depression was the recent past — other themes play well.  This is a story of a father and son, a husband and wife, and multiple relations in dyads that surround the man in the center of the script and the center of this production that in the end present the real and vital reason to see this production: Frank Langella.

Carol Penn (compelling and earnest Virginia Kull) and Basil Anthony (née Basili Antonescu, Adam Driver) live in a powerfully evoked Greenwich Village basement apartment world (crafted by set designer Derek McLane).  For the next few hours, in real time as stage time, we live with Carol (a Federal Theatre Project actor) and Basil, a club pianist, two twenty-somethings trying to make a life in the rough Depression economy and the series of characters who invade their apartment.  Sven (Michael Siberry who provides a distinctive Joseph Cotten hit to his characterization), Basil’s father’s right hand man arrives first to pave the way for Gregor (Frank Langella), the father himself, who needs a safe place to meet with two representatives from a company with whom Gregor has business (executive Mark played by Zach Grenier and accountant David played by Brian Hutchison).  Gregor has created, we soon realize, a massive Ponzi scheme and this meeting is an essential effort to offset a potential bill-will-come-due crisis before the news hits the papers.  One company’s assets have another company’s losses in a fragile balance that can topple at any time, and which Gregor’s charm has, up to this point, kept erect.  And into this mix of relationships enters Gregor’s current wife the Countess (Francesca Faridany), whose relations illustrate the full dimensions of Gregor’s art installation as professional and work life.  It’s all a construction, and it all will topple.

As a plot, many of the pieces fade away.  In particular, the son’s transformation from fervent anti-capitalist to a willing accomplice, at least in theory, to assist his capitalist father in a planned escape doesn’t play.  The performances with which I have the most fun are the Gregor’s Countess and his competitor/colleague businessman Mark.  They each have extended opportunities to craft full characters — a pampered yet knowing spousal survivor, and a closeted powerful man with secrets that provide a window into a world of 80 years ago — knowledge of boys who go with boys provided fodder for blackmail.

At the end of the story, our alpha and omega, our Gregor, takes full responsibility for his actions.  And the power of this performance compels while the balance of the storytelling fades.  For the set, the capable ensemble, and the actor one should make time, always, to catch in performance — Frank Langella’s Man and Boy is worthy theatre.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 26, 2011)

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