A Busy Theater Weekend – ‘Man and Boy’ and ‘Relatively Speaking’

This past weekend I saw the current Broadway revival of Terrence Rattigan's play, "Man and Boy," at the American Airlines Theater on 42nd Street, as presented by Roundabout Theatre Company and directed by Maria Aitken, on Saturday night, and "Relatively Speaking: 3 One-Act Comedies" at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, directed by John Turturro, on Sunday afternoon.  It was a very "filling" theater weekend, indeed.

"Man and Boy" is presented as a vehicle for Frank Langella, who portrays Gregor Antonescu, an international (Roumanian-born) financier who finds himself in trouble with US regulatory authorities in 1934.  Seeking to escape the press and law enforcement, he shows up unbidden at the Greenwich Village apartment of his estranged, illegitimate son, portrayed by Adam Driver, who has been using the name Basil Anthony and working as a nightclub pianist.  Antonescu has not seen the boy for five years, as he ran away from home after a confrontation with his father on his 18th birthday.  Now Antonescu is looking for an obscure place where he might be able to strike a merger deal with a major American power company that will give him the cash infusion he needs to settle pressing obligations that threaten to wreck his financial empire.  More about the plot I should not say.

I thought this was magnificently staged, with a very strong cast and a terrifically designed and directed production.  Langella is a master of subtle inflections in communicating the essence of a complicated character.  Driver, at a much earlier stage in his career, impressed me in last season's "Angels in America" revival, and continues to impress as he imparts more depth to his characterizations.  Prominent in the supporting cast are Virginia Kull as Basil's girlfriend, seen only in the first act, Michael Siberry as Antonescu's long-time close assistant, Zach Grenier as the CEO of the power company, Brian Hutchinson as the accountant for the power company who uncovered inconvenient facts that threatened to sink the merger, and Francesca Faridany as "Countess Antonescu," the trophy wife acquired along the way by Antonescu who is the most amusing character on the stage during her second act appearance.

This is definitely one worth seeing.  It raises some very troubling issues about the relationships between parents and children, and the ending leaves you hanging – as it should – but it is eminently watchable while in progress.

"Relatively Speaking" brings together one-act comedies by Ethan Coen ("Talking Cure"), Elaine May ("George is Dead"), and Woody Allen ("Honeymoon Motel").  To describe these in any detail is to give away the plots, so I'll keep it brief.  Most of the reviewers seem to agree that Woody Allen's contribution, the second half of the show, is screamingly funny, while the two shorter pieces in the first half are more or less amusing.  I actually found Ethan Coen's contribution to be marvelously witty, and the audience (not having been exposed yet to Allen's broad shtick) seemed, to agree, as there was ready, deserved laughter arising from the dialogue between a psychiatrist and a new inmate in a "mental institution".  (Interesting that the actors portraying these characters come back in Woody Allen's piece, the psychiatrist again portraying a psychiatrist….)  Elaine May's contribution is really "dark humor" and I thought not so easily funny as the pieces that surrounded it, but in some ways the most sophisticated of the three in its humor.

The overall package was quite entertaining, and the performances — featuring such old favorites as Julie Kavner, Marlo Thomas, and Steve Guttenberg in leading roles — were uniformly superb.  I have to give a special shout-out to Danny Hoch, who manages to play the world's most sophisticated pizza delivery boy to ever have escaped from a mental institution….  Am I saying too much?

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