'The Winslow Boy' review: Exquisite revival

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From left, Charlotte Parry, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and From left, Charlotte Parry, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Spencer Davis Milford in Terence Rattigan's "The Winslow Boy" at the American Airlines Theatre. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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REVIEW

The 1912 West London case against 13-year-old Ronnie Winslow seems far too trivial to drain two years and much of the limited family money in his defense. Accused of stealing a pittance, the boy is expelled from military academy. The father persists, to the point of obsession, to attempt to get honor restored. And yet the effort, for all its absurd disruptions, has a surprising sense of triumphal magnificence.

The same can be said for reviving "The Winslow Boy," Terence Rattigan's 1946 drama inspired by the real event. Directed with exquisite nuance by Lindsay Posner, the production -- Broadway's first since 1947 -- runs two and three-quarter talky hours and employs 11 delightfully stylish actors to make something magnificently satisfying from a petty, basically irrelevant very English story.

This was the sort of beautifully crafted, tidy play against which John Osborne's 1956 "Look Back in Anger" and fellow so-called "angry young men" of the disaffected working class rebelled.

Roger Rees is wonderful as father of the boy (Spencer Davis Milford). He is a retired banker with degenerative arthritis who goes from a dapper, reasonable fellow to a destructive obsessive in his crusade to win his favorite son's day in court -- all the way to Parliament. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio portrays the mother with a lovely romantic streak that trumps good sense.

But this is a genuine ensemble that makes incredulity seem real and very human. Charlotte Parry is both enchanting and fully-grounded as Ronnie's sister Catherine, who works for women's suffrage and whose engagement is threatened when her dowry gets spent on legal fees. Alessandro Nivola brings out the unexpected layers in the high-priced, self-promoting star attorney, while Michael Cumpsty is touching and frumpy as the former cricket player who loves Catherine.

Voracious reporters hound the door outside the comfortable, printfestooned Edwardian home, designed by Peter McKintosh, who also created the well-bred and not overly lavish costumes. Lest we believe that our time invented the tabloid mentality, old Rattigan knows otherwise.


WHAT "The Winslow Boy"

WHERE American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

INFO $52-$137; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheater.org

BOTTOM LINE A trivial crime makes for delightful revival.

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