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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
at the American Airlines Theater

A MORE LOFTY CALLING
By ROBERT CASHILL

  Frank Langella/PH: Sara Krulwich

Robert Bolt's classic drama has been little seen in New York seasons since the Tony-winning production of 1961. Philip Bosco played the conscience-wracked Thomas More Off Broadway in 1987, around the same time Charlton Heston was directing and starring in a revival in the West End and on cable TV. For most audiences, however, the screenplay's the thing-that of the Academy Award-winning best picture of 1966 that Bolt and director Fred Zinnemann fashioned from the show, with the late Paul Scofield matching his Tony with an Oscar.

More's run-in with Henry VIII was depicted most recently on Showtime's The Tudors, with Jeremy Northam in the role. The history-with-no-boring-parts approach of the show is fun, but it made me want to see the play, and stack it up against the film. I was in luck: the Roundabout is giving the show a stirring revival, with an actor who would in no way be influenced by or cowed by his predecessors, Frank Langella. My inner purist was, however, slightly disappointed, as Doug Hughes , a director who as we know from Doubt knows from Catholic quandaries, elected to trim the staging along the lines of the movie. From what I gather Heston's version is truest to Bolt's original, retaining the character of the onstage narrator, the Common Man, and other elements of the initial staging, and maybe it will resurface on the tube. For now, there is Langella, in a commanding role commensurate to his talent. He wears it lightly at first - a bit of opening scene business involving an empty wine cup is a little aria of annoyance in his hands. As hardships mount, however, once he refuses to go along with the king's divorce and marriage to Anne Boleyn, he is steadily diminished in bearing, if not in agonized spirit. By the end Langella defines grace under pressure, though there is little that is sanctimonious about the performance.

No stage cast could hope to align the constellation of supporting stars gathered for the film. Hughes has not done badly-the chief schemers, Zach Grenier as Cromwell and Jeremy Strong as Richard Rich, are effective adversaries-but only Patrick Page , as the king, goes head-to-head with Langella. Best known as an actor of one season (Christmas, when he quite delightfully plays the Grinch), Page is so good in his one crucial scene as the hair-trigger Henry you'll wish this play was in repertory with Maxwell Anderson's Anne of the Thousand Days, which follows the Boleyn affair to its bitter end.

Hughes has staged the play austerely, and handsomely, with Catherine Zuber's attractive costumes offsetting Santo Loquasto's paneled set, David Lander's candle-quality lighting, and David Van Tieghem's shivery underscore. I feared he might go the Abu Ghraib route, as there is, in the Playbill, an italicized notation, that the play takes place in an age where "imprisonment without trial, and even examination under torture, were common practice." The wink at our lawless outgoing government is pointed, but reductive. With a star equal to the task, A Man For All Seasons remains timeless, thought-provoking entertainment.

 


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