Whatever sins Gregor Antonescu commits as a financier, they pale in comparison to his sins as a father in Terence Rattigan's 1963 play, Man and Boy, which opened for serious critical reassessment Oct. 9 at the American Airlines Theatre.
Frank Langella, whom Roundabout last presented in some uncharacteristic halo lighting as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, picnics on the part of a maliciously manipulative biz-whiz who is not above offering up his own son (Adam Driver) for sacrifice to a gay financial adversary (Zach Grenier) if that is what is required to salvage his hopelessly lopsided books.
At a quick glance, one can read Antonescu as a facile Madoff make-over: an opportunistic wheeler-dealer who has no qualms about jeopardizing the world economy if it furthers his own wealth—and Langella plays him accordingly, almost with blinders, with a single-mindedness that never loses sight of his goal while going through the polite, perfunctory amenities to those immediately around him—but in truth, Rattigan's model for Antonescu was Ivar Kreuger, a pioneer Ponzi-player who went to rack, ruin and inevitable suicide in 1934, four years before Madoff's birth—hence, the play's Depression period and why it seems so topical.
Whatever the reference, he must have loomed like an old friend to Langella, who specializes—if not delights—in squeezing every drop of venom out of imperious monsters. "This is the first Rattigan play I've ever done," admitted the actor after the show, "and I think his language very restrained. I found the character fascinating on first reading, but he's exhausting to play because you can't hold back anything."
Well, you can, but Langella doesn't, and part of the perverse pleasure of the first act is watching him micro-stage-manage a situation where he dangles his (resolutely straight) son as homosexual bait to a susceptible businessman, distracting the latter so he won't deliver the death blow to Antonescu's rapidly crumbling empire.
He seems to have done his worst by the end of the first act. Then, Rattigan spends Act II backpedaling for a little sympathy for the devil, trapped like Hitler in the bunker by enveloping scandals, duking it out with those nearest and dearest to him.
The after-party was held at the latest reincarnation of Copacabana, which has been hopping all over town and finally come to rest at 268 West 47th Street, right next to Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where the original production of Man and Boy played with Charles Boyer doing Antonescu.
As is Roundabout's wont, party drinks were concocted and named after characters in the show just seen. Rokk Vodka with orange juice is "GA's Game Plan," and Rokk Apple Vodka with cranberry juice is "Sven's Scheme." (GA are the initials of Langella's character, and Sven Johnson is his officious, shock-absorbing deputy/henchman.)
Michael Siberry, who plays the indispensible Sven, was Driver's father when the two of them last played the American Airlines Theatre a year ago in Mrs. Warren's Profession. Here, Siberry mostly sits quietly on the sidelines simmering with rage while the chronically crafty Langella does his worst to Driver.
"I like that Sven is this watching figure in the background who keeps cool and distant and remains calm—he's a good factotum," said Siberry. "And I love Rattigan's writing. I did a production of his After the Dance once that toured England. It was one of his earlier plays, and this is one of his later. His dialogue is beautifully written. It's great for actors because everything you say is very well put together."
A recently relocated Brit, Siberry is one of the most conspicuously and steadily employed actors around, following a Lincoln Center play with three Roundabouts in a row. "It was nice of them to work it so that I could finish one show and start the next. It's good to work with an organization that knows what both sides are doing."
Next up? "Nothing," he sighed with a tinge of genuine relief. "My run has come to an end, but it was wonderful to be able to do things that are so different—big contrast."
Driver, contending constantly with massive mood-swings of love and hate when around Langella, is very much "the soft son" the corrupt financier has no use for. "I like the humanity in the role," said the actor. "There's a lot of humanity against inhumanity in this father-son conflict, and you can't ask for a better scene partner than Frank. He comes at you with such fury that all I feel I can do is just react to him. He makes my job a lot easier than it would be with another actor, I'm sure."
Another young man who's pretty much crushed by Big-Foot Langella is Brian Hutchison, his business rival's milquetoast accountant who catches Langella in a $6 million discrepancy. Langella treats him like a pesky gnat—which couldn't be better for Hutchison: "I'm thrilled to be doing this. It's a great scene with him, and it has been a lot of fun for me to work on that progressing frustration and apoplexy.
"I auditioned for Frank at one point, and he saw what I was bringing to it, but it was interesting for me to see how he built his character, how he started to mess with me and make me really frustrated. It was fun in rehearsal and especially in performance when stuff went to a deeper, darker place. It just got grander and slyer and harsher."
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