It’s worth sitting through a musty old costume drama. It’s even worth enduring the trials of Sir Thomas More, morbid as they were, to see Frank Langella in “A Man For All Seasons”.
As the character Tropatchov in “Fortune’s Fool”, the role for which he won the 2002 Tony Award, remarks “Oh my dears…there’s more fun to be had here than in the theater.” Langella has the ineffable quality of taking us to all sorts of places as if it were happening in the moment. From the disgrace of an American President, his Tony Award-winning appearance in “Frost/Nixon”, to a spurned lover in last year’s indie feature, “Starting Out in the Evening”, Langella’s characterizations are unforgettable. He even turns the tables in this Roundabout Theatre revival of Robert Bolt’s 1960 drama which, in spite of its political implications, feels like it’s festering in mothballs.
Still, Langella unearths the most amazing voice as Sir Thomas More, a man who chose to remain silent in prison rather than surrender his conscience to the dictates of king and countrymen. With vocal qualities that transform from charming and calming to angry and righteous or just miserable, Langella scales the heights and the depths of More’s tragic life – his devotion to God and the Roman Church, his patriotism and his unerring integrity. It’s a voice which justifies Thomas Cromwell, his accuser’s greatest dilemma. “This ‘silence’ of his is bellowing up and down Europe.”
In that role, Zach Grenier interrogates Langella (More) while curled up in a chair like an ugly, thwarted old troll. When those two actors collide, a disturbing pall descends. Fortunately, the other players in this ensemble are also noteworthy. Most especially, Patrick Page as King Henry who struts into More’s home blowing on his high pitched whistle. The sheer energy and arrogance of the King comes as a welcome breeze of relief, rather than an obvious foreshadowing. The end, when it arrives, is shattering.
As we near the tragic outcome Langella holds us captive, giving a performance that becomes increasingly more physical as his freedom to act becomes more and more restricted. Striking out at the Duke of Norfolk (Michel Gill), a man who was supposedly his peer, stepping into his trial in chains and finally curling up in his wife’s (Maryann Plunkett’s) arms, draped like a Pieta, More’s fate resonates in Langella’s hands.
But it’s the troubling political situation which hits home. As More states in his final words to Cromwell “God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road.” “A Man for all Seasons” is about one man’s opposition to King Henry when he elected himself the head of the Church of England; it paints a picture of political greed, dishonesty and corruption.
The production, directed by Doug Hughes, resonates with the tension of the impending Presidential election. Hughes, the Tony Award-winning director of “Doubt”, demonstrates again his skill with character driven drama as he brings into focus the universality and intemporality of the human predicament. In spite of Catherine Zuber’s typically stuffy Renaissance costumes, the production captures the spirit and the anxiety of our times.
And Santo Loquasto’s staging while essentially bare, creates a multitude of environments using the same rudimentary elements: walls, platforms and pillars. That the play remains a saintly and one-sided picture of the statesman Sir Thomas More was, goes without saying. That Langella renders the role so humanly that we can identify with him is the reason to see this revival at The Roundabout Theatre.
By: Isa Goldberg
A Man For All Seasons
The American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street (Between Seventh & Eighth Avenues)
1 212 719-6200