Though Americans have no proprietary feeling toward British playwright Terrence Rattigan, he’s certainly a big deal in the UK, and it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Roundabout has chosen to revive one of his lesser-known works, Man and Boy in the centenary year of his birth. Rare too is that it is set in America, in a Greenwich Village apartment in 1934. The apartment is where a young man who goes by the name Basil Anthony (Adam Driver), a nightclub pianist, lives with his fiancé Carol (Virginia Kull) incognito—because he has spent much of his adult live severing ties from his father, an infamous financier. And on the evening of the play, that self-same father, Gregor Antonescu (Frank Langella) comes to visit his estranged son. And why? Because due to his Ponzi-like manipulations finally near exposure, Gregor’s empire is about to crumble; and his son is exploitable for the purpose of trying to save it.
Though handled in a low-key manner typical of Rattigan, there is the stuff of melodrama about the plot machinations (some of it a bit quaint), and if it isn’t edge-of-the-seat stuff, it has enough relevance to What Goes On Today to provide a modest measure of “sleeper” entertainment, especially with additional characters such as the Big Man’s loyal associate and “fixer”, Sven (Michael Siberry); an equally shady colleague Antonescu is hoping to finesse (Zach Grenier); an exasperated government official trying to tighten the noose on the slippery target Antonescu embodies (Brian Hutchinson); and Antonescu’s trophy wife, a Countess (Francesca Faridinay). Much of the fun comes from director Maria Aitken and the cast seeming to understand that it’s all about getting the archetypes right, and they all do, with Mr. Langella giving his typical (which is to say remarkable) combination of bravura and deceptively offhanded nuance.
A caution: Rattigan, and this play in general, is not recommended for those with little patience for old school exposition and dramaturgy that’s a little bit diagrammatic. For me, I take each Rattigan play on its own terms, and this one strikes me as worth the time. But there are those, speaking of this production, who will tell you differently. So factor your sensibility into the mix.
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