In his last two outings on Broadway, Frank Langella has tackled two extremely flashy roles: a flamboyant gay man in Stephen Belber's Match and former President Nixon in Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon. Last night, Frank Langella returned to the stage in a more muted, but nonetheless highly satisfying, mode, playing Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons at the American Airlines Theatre.
Theatergoers who are used to seeing Langella in flashier roles do have one opportunity to see him unleash a full burst of fury during the course of the production, but otherwise this is a performance of exceptional nuance. An arched eyebrow from Langella can punctuate a line. A sly smile signals a double meaning. When More's in deep concentration, Langella bites nervously on the tip of his thumb. It's a fascinating and exceptionally human portrayal of this man who was executed for refusing to support Henry VIII's decision to split from the Catholic Church in his effort to secure a divorce from his first queen, Catherine of Aragon.
Langella's performance is key to the success of Doug Hughes' revival of Bolt's 1960 historical drama, which depicts how More's steadfast adherence to his convictions leads not only to his death but also to his family's destitution. Given the affability and nobility of Langella's More, it's easy to understand why his pragmatic and decidedly cautious wife Alice (a fine Maryann Plunkett) supports, albeit begrudgingly, his stance against the king. One also understands why his independent and well-read daughter Margaret (Hannah Cabell) is one of his staunchest admirers, even as one marvels at how the philosophical waverings of her fiancé, William Roper (the mercurial Michael Esper) contrast interestingly and cuttingly with More's steadfastness.
More's personal tragedy unfolds against a backdrop of Tudor court intrigue that's worthy of Machiavelli. Not only is the roguish and dilettantish Henry (Patrick Paige) insisting on More's support, but Thomas Cromwell (played with oiliness by Zach Grenier) uses any means possible, including More's informant steward Matthew (a wily Peter Bradbury), to ruin the man whose opinion, he fears, might hold too much sway over the English people. Even as Cromwell works against More, the Spanish Ambassador (a showy turn from Triney Sandoval) seeks More's support for the queen, who is also sister to the King of Spain.
Hughes' production unfolds with ease on Santo Loquasto's handsome unit set which features a number of sliding panels within an early Renaissance timber structure which deftly underscores the personal and political mazes that More traverses. Catherine Zuber's costumes bring the period to life with sumptuous splendor. And although one knows one is watching history from nearly 500 years ago unfold, there is a certain timeliness in Bolt's drama, as theatergoers draw parallels between the politicking in Tudor-era England and today. This fact, combined with Langella's meticulous performance, make "Seasons" a deliciously satisfying theatrical experience.
--- Andy Propst
A Man for All Seasons plays at the American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm; with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $66.50 - $111.50 and can be purchased by calling 212-719-1300 or by visiting www.roundabouttheatre.org.