More than three decades ago, Frank Langella began toying with us -- in a most serious way -- about the unnerving seductiveness of evil. Long before today's celebrity vampires, Langella heated up Broadway with a Dracula so beautiful that actresses in Victorian frocks lined up to present him their jugulars.
Now, here he is, 73, with three Tony Awards and much less hair, playing even more mercilessly with our sympathy for a devil. In "Man and Boy," the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Terence Rattigan's little-known 1963 curiosity, Langella is riveting -- and a lot of fun to watch -- as a far more timely and despicable villain: a global financier without a conscience.
Clearly Rattigan, the late English playwright being rediscovered in London during his centennial, believed he wrote a devastating father-son sociopolitical drama about a revered but crooked Romanian titan on the night before his Ponzi scheme collapses. The year is 1934, but the panic should feel so fresh to us now, it sweats.
Alas, the play is a pulpy melodrama -- not boring, exactly, but tabloid-style, junk-food entertainment tied together with improbabilities, smartly-crafted retorts and a gay plot point that must have been genuinely daring at the time.
Maria Aitken, who staged the bravura-noir send-up "39 Steps," has dressed the well-cast revival with menacing shadows, impeccably-fitting gowns and as much suspense as the script allows.
We are in the shabby two-room basement apartment in Greenwich Village where the man's socialist, alcoholic, musician son (Adam Driver) has lived in the years since he broke ties with the father he loves and loathes.
The pursued power-broker and his slick assistant (Michael Siberry) show up to hide in the flat and to host a crucial meeting with the president of American Electric (Zach Grenier) and his whistle-blowing accountant (Brian Hutchison).
The son's oddly forthright girlfriend (Virginia Kull) is an actress in a federally-funded theater project. The father's wife (Francesca Faridany) is a fake countess with no illusions about her function.
The critical relationship between father and son strains for Ibsenesque revelation. In lieu of anything near that, we get to watch Langella demonstrate how much a master can communicate with the weary flick of a cigarette and deliver sophisticated, horrifying lines as if words actually leave their tastes in his mouth. Dare you to take your eyes off him.
If you go
- WHAT: "Man and Boy"
- WHERE: American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
- INFO: $67-$117; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org
- BOTTOM LINE: Riveting Frank Langella, timely but cheesy play