Man and Boy, a Clash of the Haves and Have-Nots

10/21/2011 7:00 AM |

Man and Boy
Written by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Maria Aitken

It's obvious why the Roundabout Theater Company has revived this Terence Rattigan play (through November 27) even though it bombed the last time it was on Broadway (when it opened in 1963)—it follows a too-big-to-fail financier, Gregor Antonescu (Frank Langella), as he scrambles to save his corporate empire amid a global financial crisis. Set in 1934, the play might have old-fashioned details—"currency is paper" being one outdated line—but its mood, tone and spirit are totally of the moment.

Man and Boy is full of clashes: between economic systems, between fathers and sons, and between genres. These binaries—drama vs. comedy, socialism vs. capitalism, family vs. finance—are reflected in the set, a basement apartment divided into two rooms. Aside from Langella, who's titanic as always, the strongest element of Maria Aitken's production is its vivid design, from the grungy housing by Derek McLane (the torn and faded upholstery, the stains on the wall, the filthy trim, the dusty end tables, the rusted tin ceiling) to the lively sense of the city outside (we see the feet of passing pedestrians, the wheels of passing bicycles, and hear the clatter and low rumble of passing trains).

Antonescu's estranged son lives in Greenwich Village under the assumed name Basil Anthony (a petulant Adam Driver), working as a piano player and living la vie boheme with his actress girlfriend. Into this social-realist tableau barges the banking class: Antonescu and his man Friday (Michael Siberry). Played by Langella, Antonescu is a powerful man who acts like it—dismissive with a wave of his hand, spinning accusations back onto his accusers; he's an imperious charmer. But he's also the silliest character in the play, tending to trigger farcical, screwball situations including a prolonged, jaw-dropping scene in which Gregor tries to gain an advantage over a business partner by convincing the man that he's not Basil's father but his lover. With such goofy passages, Man and Boy is like You Can't Take it With You, with the socialist, idealist working-man intruded upon by the capitalist cretins—it's as if Noel Coward had script-doctored some Clifford Odets agitprop.

(Photo: Joan Marcus)