Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Did Critics Offer Saintly Reviews for All Of "Man"?

Did Critics Offer Saintly Reviews for All Of "Man"?

Last evening, the Doug Hughes-helmed revival Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre. Frank Langella stars as Sir Thomas More in the moral face-off with Patrick Page's King Henry VIII. This marked the first Broadway revival of the work since the 1961 original.

Critics' response -- particularly from Ben Brantley, Linda Winer and Joe Dziemianowicz -- indicates that something has been lost, quite literally, since the premiere mounting.

While ceding that it's "not always the most compelling drama," USA Today's Elysa Gardner strikes a positive note via her three out of four star review: "Luckily, this production — like the screen adaptation, which starred Paul Scofield -- is anchored by an indelible, irresistible performance. As More, Frank Langella ... tackles a very different historical figure with similar grace and depth.... Langella has a worthy sparring partner in Zach Grenier, who brings bracing menace to the role of Thomas Cromwell, the rival statesman who slavishly and ruthlessly serves the interests of the king."

Concluding that "it's less the production and more its star that best deserves the title of A Man for All Seasons," Frank Scheck provides the New York Post's three-out-of-four star review that somehow mixes up who's directing (where is Clive???): "While its theme of individual conscience clashing with the demands of the state remains all too relevant, the drama is a somewhat static, talky affair that is only intermittently compelling. Fortunately, Langella is so mesmerizing in the lead role that he single-handedly overcomes the evening's more tedious passages.... [H]e's deeply moving in the final scenes, when Sir Thomas becomes despairingly aware that his cause is lost. The acting in director Daniel Sullivan's production for the Roundabout Theatre Company -- which wisely eschews the Common Man character which originally served as the play's narrator -- is otherwise less impressive.

Noting how "the play is a star vehicle disguised as ensemble drama," Variety's David Rooney is nevertheless largely laudatory: "The 1961 drama ... is not without windy preachiness. But the Roundabout staging becomes more gripping as it proceeds, driven by a performance from Frank Langella as measured and naturalistic as it is majestic.... By denying the man more than a flicker of doubt or remorse over the consequences of his actions, and by drawing adversaries that outwit him with cunning but never with intellect, the playwright robs the drama of texture.... Langella's performance, however, is sufficiently commanding to overcome the role's limited dimension. The actor's effortless authority is softened by a playful sense of irony that makes it seem only natural he would toss off a cutting remark even while being sentenced to die."

Pondering whether it's "heresy to whisper that the sainted Thomas More is a bit of a bore," The New York Times' Ben Brantley Mr. Langella says that this Man isn't suited for the current season: "Mr. Langella haloes himself with such incandescence that you may wish you had brought along a pair of polarized glasses. But starlight needs to flicker and sputter if a complex character is to emerge from all that radiance. And Mr. Bolt’s script ... neglects to include several essential ingredients for a compelling dramatic hero. Like conflict, doubt, vacillation and change.... But it is evident as well why there had been no Broadway revival of the play for four decades."

While revering Langella's big stature, but lamenting, "It's the plays that got small," Newsday's Nora Desmond, er, Linda Winer echoes Brantley: "The texture of Robert Bolt's 16th century English-chronicle drama has been flattened by director Doug Hughes' decision (with permission from the estate) to cut the role of the Common Man. He is missed.... On the other hand, the disappearance of the Common Man does offer an uncluttered view of Langella. His More, for all his self-destructive conscience, is excellent company, just the sort of elegantly intelligent force who believes that 'God made man to serve him wittily.' By wit, he means alertness, not humor, and Langella -- in court favor and as a doomed prisoner -- suggests the plush yet wary presence of someone stroking a cat."

Lamenting how the "parched Roundabout revival all too seldom ignites," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News provides just two-and-a-half stars out of five: "Doug Hughes seems at a loss for fresh ways to make Bolt's wordy warhorse feel urgent as it plays out over 2 1/2 hours on Santo Loquasto's skeletal set of Tudor-style timbers and shifting panels. In one noteworthy move, Hughes has deleted the Common Man, a character who comments on the action.... Langella gives a characteristically intelligent and sensitive performance, but while we see More's plight, we don't feel it -- largely a result of Bolt's script."

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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