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"A Man for All seasons"
"A Man for All seasons"
By Robert Bolt
Directed by Doug Hughes
The Roundabout Theater
American Airlines Theater West 42nd St.
Staring Frank Langella
Opened October 7, 2008
Reviewed October 3, 2008 by Margaret Croyden
Frank Langella is a real thoroughbred. An actor whose presence dominates the stage, he captures every moment, displaying an honesty and theatricality that few actors can achieve. More important he has the energy to give life to a work what might otherwise be boring. "A Man For all Seasons," a revival of many years, patently comes to life because of Langella. Not that the play is uninteresting. It is about nobility of a certain kind, the kind that remains constant. It is about consistency of beliefs, no matter the price. Perhaps some might find the subject talky and overly intellectualized, which can be hard to take, but Langella overcomes all the pitfalls of the play.
An experienced and gifted actor, his every move brings a certain life and theatricality to the role--and he is great to look at. Tall, regal, handsome in a mannerly way, and blessed with a booming voice--no need for hearing devices which in itself is a relief from those actors who mumble-jumbo through their roles. (projection seems to be old fashioned it would seem), Langella creates a real man in all his human demensions. Sometimes he is witty, pensive, troubled, charming and in the end noble and daring as the man who would die for his principles.
Based on a true story that ordinarily would make it difficult to enact, but under the brilliant direction of Doug Hughes, the material sounds new and engrossing and very relevant.
Thomas More, the leading character, was the English Chancellor in King Henry VIII's court, at a time when Henry wanted permission from the pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he had fallen in love. This the Pope refused to grant. The king, frustrated and enraged, plans to break from Rome and set himself up as the Head of the Church, thereby creating the beginning of the country's break with Catholicism and a civil war that divided the country into two religions. With all his power as monarch of England, Henry nevertheless must gather support of the nobles (and everyone else) in order to successfully carry out his fight against the Pope. Thus he charges anyone who disagrees with him with treason and execution.
Thomas More refuses to recognize the King's dictum. He declines to pay lip service and sign a simple paper backing the king. For this he is arrested, charged with treason, and given the death sentence. Although he could have saved himself by signing the paper, he refuses, despite his family's imploring him to acquiesce. And so he goes to the scaffold--true to his beliefs.
"A Man for All Seasons" might have ended up as a melodrama, but under the direction of Doug Hughes, the play (albeit talky) moved very rapidly. Actors were energetic and brisk; nothing was belabored. A certain atmosphere was created with a theatrical tension that kept the audience attentive and quiet. No rustling, no coughing, no restlessness.
Langella was a tough act to follow. His characterization was full of variation: he was amusing, solemn, serious, and a man suffering in jail awaiting his death. His meeting with his family just before he dies was the most painful part of the play--beautifully acted and very moving.
Although the entire cast was excellent, one performance stood out. Patrick Page as Henry VIII in a short scene with Langella depicted Henry as a witty, likable fellow, pleasant enough, but conscious of his power--an original conception.
To see authentic 16th century costumes was a pleasure. Velvet robes, bejeweled gowns, heavy necklaces and satin cloaks all resulted in an unusual visual experience. Thankfully, the director did not modernize the play, which nowadays has become the rule.
Doug Hughes is also a man for all seasons, having directed a variety of different plays. For this he has received every possible award: the Obie, the Tony, the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics-- all richly deserved. They are a mighty pair--Frank Langella and Doug Hughes. Lets hope we see more of them.
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