Man and Boy By Terence Rattigan • Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC • (212) 719-1300 • Through November 27, 2011
Terence Rattigan’s background was Irish, but his instincts and his achievements were profoundly British, which made him England’s most successful and most popular playwright from the middle 1930s until the early 1960s.
Prominent among those enriching instincts was Rattigan’s secure knowledge of his audience — in particular, the woman he saw as his target fan. He called her “Aunt Edna” and envisioned her attending matinees unfailingly armed with a box of chocolates bought at the theatre’s snack bar.
In a sense, by creating Edna, he was selling himself short. Some of his better plays hold up well, perhaps particularly 1954’s”Separate Tables,” which was vastly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, and is still among the Rattigan works frequently revived in England, but rarely in America, where the author is virtually forgotten.
There is, however, a lesser Rattigan play, “Man and Boy,” currently in revival at the American Airlines Theatre, in a respectable but uneven Roundabout Theatre Company staging starring Frank Langella giving a remarkable performance.
“Man and Boy” was originally produced in London in 1963. It is by no means a major work, but it can be made to work, as is the case with Maria Aitken’s efficient production. Apart from Langella, though, it is somewhat indifferently cast.
Langella’s Romanian-born Gregor Antonescu is a high class con artist based on Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish “Match King” who was functioning in the l930s. The play’s action is set in 1934. Kreuger’s “Ponzi scheme,” as detailed in the play, is likely to bring Bernie Madoff’s name into the minds of contemporary audiences.
Gregor Antonescu, played by sly, slick Langella with an Eastern European accent, is estranged from his illegitimate son, Vassily. Five years earlier, the boy had moved to New York and been living under the name Basil Anthony, giving the general impression that “Vassily” has been dead for about that long.
His desperate father, however, finds him living quietly in a shabby Greenwich Village apartment. Basil is nicely played by Adam Driver. The apartment, designed by Derek McLane, is a perfect reflection of the “cold, damp night” called for by the script for Gregor’s visit to his son.
Gregor will manipulate, take advantage of, and use anyone who comes within his sight, and his son is no exception. In attempting what he considers his last chance to save his sleazy but powerful position, he attempts a merger with a gay industrialist, Mark Harries, well-played by Zach Grenier.
He arranges to meet Harries at Basil’s apartment, and when the industrialist assumes that Gregor’s son is really his lover, and that he could be sexually available on a loan basis, the desperate father lets his guest assume whatever he wishes.
At about this point, Rattigan’s plotting stretches thin and finally tears, making “Man and Boy” seem vaguely ridiculous, a tone from which it never entirely recovers, despite Langella’s valiant efforts to hold things together.