Friday, September 16, 2011

Man and Boy

DISCLAIMER:Man and Boy is in previews and opens officially on October 9.

One of my favorite things about attending Roundabout theater productions is that I never have any idea what the shows are about, so I go in with no expectations or prejudices. Sometimes, as with last year's production of Brief Encounter, this works well, and I end up seeing a fantastic show that hits every emotional note perfectly and leaves me wishing I could see a show every night. Other times, it means that I end up sitting through a show that I have no interest in and can't connect to, and leaves me wishing I had known what it was about so I could avoid it.

Which brings me to last night. Terence Rattigan's play should have resonated, at least a little, since the cultural environment is similar to our own; it's the story of a father and son, meeting for the first time in five years on the eve of a global financial collapse. The father, Gregor Antonescu (Frank Langella), is being hounded by the press. He seeks refuge in his son Basil's (Adam Driver) Greenwich Village apartment. Heated words are exchanged, secrets are revealed, and lives are forever changed.

The problem with this play lies not in the individual performances, but in the source material. The first act drags on and on, with no real direction or any hint of the urgency of the situation. It ends with a series of misunderstandings that might be played for laughs in a different show, but here just makes everyone uncomfortable. The repercussions of these misunderstandings are promptly forgotten in the second act, leaving the viewer wondering why they were brought up at all.

The second act is no better. Emotional bombs are dropped left and right, but the emotional climax feels unearned. By the final scene, I didn't care whether or not Basil and his father made amends. I did wonder where his girlfriend had gone, though; she disappears sometime in the first act and is never mentioned again.

The small cast does the best they can with dreary material. Frank Langella bounces between genteel world financier and kindly if clueless father so smoothly that I believed Basil's deep angst at how to deal with him. Similarly, Driver's Basil was so shaken by his father's reappearance that I wanted to give him a hug. Still, this entire story could have been told in one 90-minute act instead of two acts and over two hours. Unless the show is considerably streamlined in the three weeks between now and the official open, this is probably a show you can skip.

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