Man and Boy
Frank Langella casts a long shadow. And his towering performance as Gregor Antonescu, a shrewd, rather sociopathic financier on the verge of collapse, at times threatens to eclipse the rest of Man and Boy. The moment he arrives on stage, his hand Napoleonically resting in his right pocket and his voice evoking money more acutely than a cash register’s ka-ching, he commands your attention, and coaxes it away from elements in this Broadway revival that aren’t quite on the same level.
Originally produced in 1963, but set during the Great Depression, Terence Rattigan’s play about high-finance crookery is more than passingly relevant. Antonescu is a sort of proto-Madoff struggling to prevent his paper empire from folding. In short, he’s a banker-as-Bond-villain, a characterization that is perhaps more resonant right now than the producers even intended. The events are set entirely within the dingy walls of the Greenwich Village flat of Anotnescu’s estranged son, Basil (Adam Driver), and the ratty furniture and blooming rust stains contrast amusingly with the high-finance dealings that eventually take place.
Basil is an Oxford-educated armchair Bolshevik who escaped from his father into respectable penury five years earlier. The two are brought together by the financial magnate’s need for a hideout once news of a failing merger sends his holdings into a tailspin. But the reunion isn’t sweet. Basil disdains his moneyed background, while Antonescu treats his family as he does everything else: as business. He invites the president of American Electric (Zach Grenier) in an attempt to salvage their merger, and plans to turn his knowledge of the man’s closeted proclivities to his advantage. Like a patient predator, Antonescu lures his rival into his trap, using Basil as bait.
This unhealthy father-son dynamic should make for excellent theater, but strangely — and despite what the play’s title might suggest — these two characters’ relationship feels underdeveloped. Basil awkwardly vacillates between petulant rejection of his father and pure adulation. Driver can’t come close to matching his costar’s stage presence and the struggle ends up lopsided, with Basil’s accuastory speech to his father at the end of the first act hitting with all of the force of overcooked spaghetti.
Grenier and Michael Siberry (as Antonescu’s faithful-to-a-point aide-de-camp) are both very good, but it’s still Langella’s show. His grip on his character never wavers, drawing nuance from his cold practicality like blood from a stone. He colors his patrician tones with just the hint of an accent, in the same way that his casual cruelty occasionally hardens into flashes of Old World ferocity. When he fully unleashes, it’s chilling. It’s a performance worth seeing. B+
(Tickets: RoundaboutTheatre.org or 212-719-1300)