Seen and Heard: On Broadway And Off

Seen on Broadway: Occupy Wall Street comes to Broadway, as the Roundabout Theatre Company revives Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy for the first time since it flopped in 1963. In this corner, representing the lumpen 99 percent: Basil Anthony (Adam Driver), a socialist who ekes out a living as a songwriter at the height of the Great Depression from the depths of his basement apartment in Greenwich Village. Basil, we soon learn, is a pseudonym, as the high-strung young man is actually the son of the world-shaping capitalist Gregor Antonescu.

Thanks to some nicely tailored threads by Martin Pakledinaz the 1 percent has rarely looked so good as Frank Langella looks here, brimming with confidence…or, rather, confidence schemes, as Antonescu’s world, built on funny money, is in freefall. On the run from creditors Antonescu seeks refuge with his long-estranged son, setting up a clash of values that’s not without topical interest.

Typical of second-tier work, however, Rattigan lavishes all his attention on his preening villain, giving him the most flavorful lines and situations, while leaving the semi-alcoholic Basil as pretty much a straw man. Driver, an interesting actor who matches up well with his imposing co-star, has nothing to play. The show’s most noted scene, one that gave the playwright an opportunity to tweak the British censors, has Antonescu passing the absent Basil off as his available lover, to divert the attention of the secretly homosexual electric company magnate (Zach Grenier) the financier hopes to finagle.

It’s an edgily amusing sequence, well played by the two veteran actors. But there’s no real follow through as the show settles back into familiar regrets and recriminations. When the most interesting relationship in a play called Man and Boy is not between man and boy but rather man and manservant (Michael Siberry plays Antonescu’s majordomo with a terse officiousness) something’s not clicking. Director Maria Aitken (The 39 Steps) exhumed the show in London a few years back and has done what she could do with it—not enough, though, to make it a fit tribute for Rattigan in his centenary year.

That said, Langella (putting his stamp on a role created by Charles Boyer) is an actor to treasure, uplifting adequate material with a gesture or a line reading, and he suggests conflicted emotions that transcend the earthbound writing. With an assist from the glints of lighting provided in Basil’s dark apartment by Kevin Adams, Langella makes something special out of a final moment involving an old photograph. The show also benefits from Derek McLane’s finely detailed set, indicative of Basil’s crabbed, furtive life, and a score and sound design by John Gromada that root the show in its period. If only Man and Boy, which runs through November 27 at the American Airlines, had been made to speak more compellingly to ours.

Seen Off Broadway: Fathers and sons predominate this week, as the Keen Company revives the late Lanford Wilson’s Lemon Sky (1970) at the Clurman Theatre. Searingly autobiographical, the play is a potent reminder that not all glittered in the golden era of the late 1950s. Seventeen-year-old Alan (Keith Nobbs, deftly playing the character as a youth and as the sadder, more cynical narrator of his story) tentatively reunites with his father Douglas (Kevin Kilner), who left him and his mother in Nebraska for other prospects in the San Diego suburbs when Alan was just five. What he finds is a half-family locked in states of dysfunction, which the overbearing Douglas refuses to acknowledge. His stepmother (Kellie Overbey), preteen half brothers, and the two teen girls the family has taken in as foster children struggle with various issues that no one can properly articulate, which obliges the characters to speak directly to the audience and not too each other in places. Needless to say there is a certain amount of acting out, particularly from the sexually precocious Carol (Alyssa May Gold). Puzzled when Alan doesn’t act on her overtures, Douglas (not the most protective of father figures) suspects what the boy can’t quite express, leading to another devastating separation.

Sensitively directed by Jonathan Silverstein, this is another notable revival from the Keen Company, with even Kilner finding nuances within the boorish Douglas. Bill Clarke’s scenic design, emphasizing lawn furniture and appropriately spare and suburban, is complemented by Josh Bradford’s always-sunny-in-California lighting, with hints of a darkness that can never wholly be kept at bay. (The same insinuation is part of Obadiah Eaves’ sound design.) Jennifer Paar designed the expressive costumes. Lemon Sky runs through October. 22.

Equipment Vendors:

Man and Boy

Scenery Fabrication: Hudson Scenic Studio, Inc.
Lighting Equipment: PRG
Audio Equipment: Sound Associates

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