The Roundabout Theater Company’s production of Man and Boy, starring Frank Langella, is eerily representative of the present-day financial crisis that currently troubles our country. Many different people, ideas and attempts at success are combined but the result is a muddled mixture that does not fuse to form a cohesive product.
Set in 1934 during the height of the Depression, Terrence Rattigan’s play was inspired by the spectacular fall of Ivar Krueger, an international business magnate of that era. Rattigan introduces the audience to Gregor Antonescu, a “Romanian-born radio and oil king” known as “the so-called savior and mystery man of Europe.” That’s quite a reputation to live up to, but when Gregor is played by Frank Langella, every word describing his mighty reputation is believable.
Gregor has sought refuge in the West Village apartment (the tastefully shabby set is by Derek McLane) of his estranged son Basil (Adam Driver, miscast), who denounced the family money and moved to America to work as a cocktail bar pianist. Gregor is involved in a risky merger that apparently determines the fate of the global stock market and the police are scouring the city for him. Ensconced in his son’s living room, he proceeds to manipulate the people around him like pawns in a merely entertaining chess game rather than the people who determine his future.
Confident and at ease, Langella speaks languidly, relaxed in a chair, sipping glass after glass of whiskey, viewing his surroundings almost as if they amuse him, even while his well-being and future are at stake. It is the financial conflicts take center stage in this production, even though the core of Man and Boy is supposed to be the father/son dynamic between Gregor and Basil. But this Basil, played by Driver, is not a match for Langella in any way. He appears spineless and drippy rather than masculine and self-assured enough to have supposedly threatened to kill his father and then moved to America, changed his name and created a new, independent life without family connections or money. The two men share several scenes together but the paternal connection is never obvious or emotionally moving.
The duo is joined onstage by Michael Siberry, playing Sven Johnson Gregor’s devoted second in command (and clearly enjoying it quite a bit) and Francesca Faridany, playing Gregor’s trophy wife. Zach Grenier is entertaining as the American business tycoon whose eyes Gregor successfully pulls the wool over, and his overeager accountant (Brian Hutchinson) also captures the audience’s attention with his flustered, high-energy performance. Basil’s girlfriend, who seems to exist in the script solely to introduce the audience to Basil’s mysterious past and reluctance to open up emotionally, is played by Virginia Kull who capably accomplishes what she can with a minor role.
Even though Gregor is the least formed character in the script, he is the most interesting onstage, and that is due to Langella’s quiet, but completely formed, performance. It is difficult to look elsewhere when Langella is onstage, even when he is not speaking.
One would think Man and Boy would be all too relevant to today’s audiences. On my way to the theater, I walked past the crowds of protesters participating in “Occupy Times Square.” Listening to the Gregor explain how the financial system works – and how he works it – inspires an all too familiar reaction of weary, resigned disgust. And the fact that the fantastically successful Gregor is clearly unable to love his wife or son in any fulfilling way is not a surprise at all. But despite all of the pieces, Man and Boy does not leave any lingering emotional impact. The last scene of the show should be viewed either as a triumph or a tragedy but instead it merely feels uncomfortable and flat.
According to Gregor, “confidence and liquidity” are the keys to staying afloat in business. The same could be said of theatrical productions. Unfortunately, only Langella possesses those characteristics in this one.