Sleek in top coat, double-breasted suit with peaked lapels and gray fedora severely angled to hide his face, Frank Langella’s Gregor Antonescu sweeps into the Greenwich Village dump that has been his estranged son’s home.
His visit to the grotto apartment in “Man and Boy” is prompted by a global economic crisis in the wake of rumors that the Antonescu empire, a rather large house of cards, is on the brink of collapse. He needs his son’s help in a last-ditch scheme to stay afloat.
Smashingly revived on Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre Company, Terence Rattigan’s 1963 drama is choice goods for an actor of Langella’s gifts: stentorian delivery, intimidating physicality and a natural ease at feigning sincerity while slipping in the shiv. The role was written for Charles Boyer, and it fits Langella like a bespoke suit.
Antonescu, Romanian by birth, has arranged a secret meeting with a lesser American captain of industry, Mark Herries (Zach Grenier, masterly as a brazenly confident man who doesn’t realize he’s been had until it’s too late). The son, Basil (Adam Driver, only a shade coarse for an Oxford-educated socialist who renounced capitalism and plays piano in a honky tonk for $26 a week), is unwittingly cast as honey in Gregor’s trap, which turns on his knowledge of a secret that will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Rattigan’s work.
That Gregor would use his son in such an unsavory, not to say risky, plot seems unlikely. So is the idea -- put forward by Basil’s live-in girlfriend (Virginia Kull, perfectly believable as a young actress getting her first break in Depression-era New York) -- that Basil’s renunciation of his father barely conceals his adoration of the soulless man who has rebuffed him since childhood.
Still, director Maria Aitken sustains a brooding tone while turning up the suspense incrementally. There are fine supporting performances by Michael Siberry as Gregor’s amanuensis, Brian Hutchison as a Herries functionary and Francesca Faridany as Gregor’s trophy wife.
“Man and Boy” isn’t first-rate Rattigan along the lines of “The Browning Version” and “The Winslow Boy.” But it’s first-class entertainment, especially in our post-Madoff era. The notion that one man’s cunning criminal behavior can have such far-reaching consequences not only for the wealthy, but for the recipients of his largesse, seems thoroughly credible.
Langella made a similarly devastating case for Richard M. Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” He’s every bit as riveting here.
Through Nov. 27 at 227 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-719-1300; http://www.roundabouttheatre.org Rating: ***
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)