Occupy Broadway! Man and Boy Review
Occupy Wall Street has spread around the world. Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Times Square this weekend, passing by the American Airlines Theater, home to “Man and Boy,” a play starring Frank Langella about a wily speculator during the Great Depression.
Nobody seemed to be protesting the quality or relevance of the shows in the theater district. But it would not have been out of place to wonder why it is that Broadway’s stabs at relevance include revivals of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and, now, a play by Terence Rattigan that was dismissed as a “modest entertainment” and lasted just 54 performances when it first opened on Broadway starring Charles Boyer in 1963.
“Man and Boy” is based on a man whose story is similar but more interesting than Bernie Madoff’s, though now less known. Ivar Krueger was a Swiss industrialist who lent money to governments around the world and was called the Match King until he was exposed as a massive swindler, after which he was called the “Leonardo of larcenists”.
In Rattigan’s play, he has been transformed to Romanian-born world-class financier Gregor Antonescu, on a first-name basis with both Mussolini and FDR, and known as the man who singlehandedly built roads in Yugoslavia and brought electricity to Hungary. The entire drama, however, takes place in a “dump” of an apartment in Greenwich Village on a single day in 1934. It is the home of Gregor’s son, Vassily, who has changed his name to Basil and has had nothing to do with his father for five years.
His father now arrives in his doorway, spy-like in trench coat and fedora. He is, in effect, on the lam, his financial empire on the verge of collapse as his long-term, massive fraud begins to be exposed.
This set-up might sound promising. But the actual two-hour play is far less exciting, salvaged by the usual thrill of watching both Frank Langella and Zach Grenier in action.
They play a long scene together that should offend current sensibilities, but winds up providing the bulk of what’s entertaining in the play. Grenier plays Mark Herries, the chief executive of American Electric, which has just called off a proposed merger with one of Gregor’s subsidiaries because an American Electric accountant has uncovered Gregor’s financial shenanigans, a fancy phrase for theft. The unscrupulous Gregor has gathered intelligence that Mark is secretly gay (or, as Gregor puts it behind Mark’s back, a “silly pink faced old fairy”). Gregor silkily pretends that he himself is gay as well and that his son Basil is not his son at all, but his lover, and that Gregor is willing to share him. He does this without bothering to tell Basil (who we’ve seen is straight from the first scene, when he is in bed with his girlfriend Carol.)
Gregor almost manages through this manipulation to save his empire.
Perhaps if there were more of this outrageous behavior we could bask in the cleverness of his villainy. But much of the rest of the play is a mostly dull and unconvincing exploration of Gregor’s stunted relationships — with his right-hand man Sven (Michael Siberry), with his wife, an ex-typist who now has a royal title he bought for her, the Countess (Francesca Faridany) and, most of all, with his son Vassily/Basil (Adam Driver), the last relationship being the one that presumably gives “Man and Boy” its title.
It is hard to find fault in the performances, or Derek McLane’s sumptuously dumpy set or the direction by Maria Aitken – though those expecting the verve, pacing or humor of her previous directorial effort on Broadway, “The 39 Steps,” are going to be in for a surprise. One can nitpick about the production, but it is hard to imagine one that would completely justify Roundabout’s decision to revive “Man and Boy” in the first place. Yes, it is a good vehicle for Frank Langella, a performance that manages to be simultaneously subtle and flashy.
But how can they think “Man and Boy” an ideal selection when there are plays out there like Harley Granville Barker’s 1905 “Voysey Inheritance,” which
David Mamet presciently revised for a revival five years ago, or The Power of Yes by David Hare or even Imagining Madoff, which just ran in Washington, D.C. – and surely others by playwrights not yet produced who are as occupied and preoccupied as the Occupy Wall Street movement with what is going on?
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Man and Boy
At the American Airlines Theater
By Terence Rattigan; directed by Maria Aitken; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Martin Pakledinaz; lighting by Kevin Adams; music and sound by John Gromada; hair and wig design by Paul Huntley;
Cast: Frank Langella (Gregor Antonescu), Adam Driver (Basil Anthony), Francesca Faridany (Countess Antonescu), Zach Grenier (Mark Herries), Brian Hutchison (David Beeston), Virginia Kull (Carol Penn) and Michael Siberry (Sven Johnson).
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission
“Man and Boy” is set to run through November 27, 2011
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