When Frank Langella was asked to play the role of the Captain in August Strindberg's 1887 drama "The Father" at the Roundabout Theatre, he first said no. Then he reread the Swedish playwright's dark tale about the battle for marital power between a husband and a wife.
"A lot of us think we know the play," he says. "We don't. It's a great play, a little-done classic. This universal battle between men and women is no different today than it was 100 years ago. I was reading the last speech, and my hand reached for the telephone; I called and said I would do it."
And so Langella is back on Broadway for the first time in eight years, co-starring with Gail Strickland ("Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman"), who plays the Captain's wife, Laura. Clifford Williams is the director; the adaptation is by Richard Nelson.
The Father, Langella says, is misunderstood by modern audiences. "People think it's misogynistic. I don't think of it that way. It interests me that when there's a strong female character in a play who is determined to get what she wants, she's called a bitch. When there's a strong man determined to get what he wants, people say that's how men are."
The play, he says, is very much about power. "I think almost every relationship--with children, parents, grandparents, fellow workers--is to some degree about power. It's especially true in a marriage, where a man and woman decide to live together, get into bed together, share money, share a home, have children, raise those children. There isn't anybody who can tell me those aren't power games." Langella acknowledges that whatever the play's power, it is not politically correct. "Strindberg says certain men are victims of women. That is very difficult for us in this society to grasp or to want to grasp. It's not politically correct to say a woman can victimize a man. It is politically correct to say men victimize women. But women victimize men, too."
The danger, he says, lies in assuming that the Captain and Laura stand for all men and women. "It's a play about one rather fragile male and one very strong woman. The idea that the play should be regarded as one that damns all women is foolish. This man is a victim of his fragility. That is what attracted me to the role."
Langella's long Broadway career includes star roles in "Sherlock's Last Case" and "Dracula," for which he received a Tony Award nomination as Best Actor. He won the Tony as Best Supporting Actor in 1975 for Edward Albee's "Seascape." His recent movies include "Cutthroat Island"; "Moses," due in March on TNT, in which he plays Pharaoh; "Eddie," a basketball comedy with Whoopi Goldberg scheduled for May; and next fall, a remake of "Lolita," co-starring Jeremy Irons and Melanie Griffith.
Langella says he doesn't prefer one medium over the other. "I like good work. I like a great part." And in the role of the Captain, he certainly has one.