Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Man For All Seasons


By Robert Bolt. Dir. Doug Hughes. Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theater. (CLOSED)

Critics are divided about Robert Bolt's classic chronicle of the undoing of Sir Thomas More and not particularly complimentary of Dough Hughes' staging. But their enthusiasm for its star, three time Tony-Award Winning actor Frank Langella, is hard to overstate. Many critics agree that Doug Hughes' decision to cut the Brechtian "Common Man" device from the play (a sort of narrator who also assumes multiple roles in the show) was a mistake that flattens the play.

The Journal News A+
(Jacques Le Sourd) Like a big, juicy dinner from the days before anybody worried about fat, or knew about cholesterol. It stars the grand and wonderful Frank Langella as Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor who defied King Henry VIII and lost his head doing it...It's three hours long, and it deserves to be...All played in a stately kind of slow-motion that seems utterly appropriate.

CurtainUp A+
(Simon Saltzman) Splendid...The play, an accounting of one great man's unexpectedly steadfast dedication to conscience, country, and church, remains one of the 20th century's most lauded plays. As directed by Doug Hughes and starring Frank Langella as the titular Sir Thomas More, this production also speaks well of the indestructibility of Bolt's text, as well for the indistinguishable force of its theme.

Philadelphia Inquirer A
(Toby Zinman) Despite our knowing how it will all turn out, who the good guys and the bad guys were, the play remains deeply engrossing, full of impassioned language, clever legal arguments, and some terrific acting.

Wall Street Journal A-
(Terry Teachout) Mr. Langella's version of St. Thomas is all his own: urbane, world-weary, more public than that of his great predecessor, which makes it all the more moving when he collapses in fear and desperation...Better than Scofield? No—but just as good...Doug Hughes's staging...takes significant liberties with Bolt's original script...Taken on its own terms, though, the Roundabout's Man for All Seasons is an excellent and persuasive piece of work, in large part because the play itself is so masterly a piece of storytelling.

Theatermania: A-
(Brian Scott Lipton) Langella takes his artistry to new heights—and could easily earn his fourth Tony—with his consummate portrayal of Sir Thomas More in Doug Hughes' sturdy revival...This nearly-three hour talkfest can admittedly be tough sledding for some, as it favors intellectual debate over action and philosophical discussion over swordfighting. Yet, while certain scenes initially seem superfluous, most pay off in Bolt's careful construction, and despite a slight overabundance of words, many of them not only demand to be heard—but have gained relevance in these politically troubled times.

Theater News Online B+
(Bill Stevenson) Rather miraculously, Langella is nearly as good as he was in Frost/Nixon and inhabits the part as comfortably as Scofield did. Although the other cast members and the production as a whole don't reach Langella's lofty level, the Roundabout can be proud of this sturdy revival.

The Record B
(Robert Feldberg) Like a monthly dinner date with an old friend. You know it'll be comfortable, but excitement isn't in the cards.

USAToday B
(Elysa Gardner) Aside from More and, briefly, Henry, none of these characters appear on stage; had Bolt included them, his work might have had less of an arid, academic air. Instead, two long and hardly brisk acts are devoted largely to having More explain and defend his intellectual and moral philosophy to those who support, challenge and betray him. It's thought-provoking stuff but not always the most compelling drama.

Newsday B
(Linda Winer) Without the [Common Man] device, the play becomes a story of conscience and heroism and the break with the Catholic Church that led to the Church of England. The story is handsomely cast, lucidly delineated and extremely well-told. Without Brechtian distance, however, it is just an informative philosophical costume drama about how Thomas More, chancellor of England, failed to stop King Henry VIII (a joyously irresponsible Patrick Page) from defying the Catholic Church by taking yet another wife.

The Washington Post
(Peter Marks) The narrative in this production more closely resembles the structure of the acclaimed 1966 movie version (also written by Bolt) in detailing More's resistance to Henry's demand: that he recognize the king's right to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn. I'd never seen the stage version before, so it's hard to gauge what's been gained—or lost. If anything, the piece asserts itself as a lesser follow-up to Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Hartford Courant B
(Malcolm Johnson) For much of Act I, Robert Bolt's celebrated drama of the martyrdom of Sir Thomas More fails to assert itself as a play for all seasons. Even with the superb Frank Langella in the title role, the Roundabout Theatre Company's production too often feels like a turgid pageant...The liveliest moments...come when Langella's More, now chancellor, meets briefly with King Henry VIII. As acted by Patrick Page, the much-married monarch is a lively dictator who warns More against writing or speaking against his plan to shed Catherine of Aragon and to wed Anne Boleyn.

New Jersey Star-Ledger:B
(Michael Sommers) Fortunately, the imposing old-school sweep of Langella's beautifully-spoken performance relieves the repetitive drama's tendency toward stodginess. Initially depicting More as an urbane intellectual, Langella believably reveals the man's essential grace under increasing pressure and degradation.

Variety B
(David Rooney) 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. Humility is not a major asset in Langella's arsenal, but a shot of arrogance adds color to his More, and the penetrating assessments he makes of both friends and foe come through loud and clear, often without words.

New York Post B-
(Frank Scheck) 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.

Bloomberg B-
(John Simon) Yet with all this unevenness, this is still a play that is both literate and theatrical, and able to hold our interest. There remains an arresting clash of ideas, as well as More's gripping attempt to make his rigorous silence, as opposed to voiced disapproval, protect him within the law, a law his enemies manage to twist to their purpose.

Associated Press B-
(Michael Kuchwara) The play itself doesn't wear as well in this stately, slow-paced revival, that the Roundabout Theatre Company opened Tuesday at its American Airlines Theatre. The production, directed by Doug Hughes is Masterpiece Theatre reverential...Even with Langella gloriously emoting...Roundabout's A Man for All Seasons can't quite shake a sermonlike feeling.

Backstage B-
(David Sheward) This usually precise director, who has brought fire and ice to such memorable productions as Doubt and Frozen, is guilty here of "plodding," as one character describes More's approach to statesmanship. The stakes of private conscience versus public duty are never made entirely clear and vital until that final trial. Perhaps it's because Hughes has cut Bolt's Common Man character, a narrator figure who assumes multiple roles....Without the Common Man casting the light of historical context and raising the question of what More's stance means outside Tudor England, Bolt's script loses much of its impact.

Talking Broadway C+
(Matthew Murray) Can a radiant star compensate for a swelling black hole? If the star in question is Frank Langella, the answer is almost, even when he's up against the destructive gravitational pull present—or, perhaps more accurately, absent—in the Roundabout's new revival.

The Daily News C
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Doug Hughes...a Tony-winning director with a proven track record, seems at a loss for fresh ways to make Bolt's wordy warhorse feel urgent...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. Only during a final, emotional jail scene with his wife (Maryann Plunkett) and daughter (Hannah Cabell) does the price of More's steadfast honor register.

The Hollywood Reporter C
(Alexis Greene) The production that surrounds Langella is not up to the star's charismatic performance. Bolt's drama won the Tony for best play in 1962, but these days the piece, while relevant, feels a bit thin. It needs more than a star turn, and it also needs deft direction and a supporting cast that lends heft to characters that are mostly one-dimensional.

The New York Times C-
(Ben Brantley) Starlight needs to flicker and sputter if a complex character is to emerge from all that radiance. And Mr. Bolt's script—which clearly and intelligently outlines Henry VIII's epochal war with the Roman Catholic Church over matters marital—neglects to include several essential ingredients for a compelling dramatic hero. Like conflict, doubt, vacillation and change.

AM New York C-
(Matt Windman) Sure, it's nice to have Frank Langella back on Broadway less than two years since his Tony-winning performance in Frost/Nixon...Langella delivers a solid, committed performance as Sir Thomas More...But to be frank, Doug Hughes' straightforward production is as dull and lifeless as it is altogether unnecessary.

Time Out NY C-
(David Cote) I'd rather watch a tough-minded mounting of Brecht's Galileo: Now there's a complex treatment of authority and personal morality. Alas, what we get is the ethics weepie A Man For All Seasons, starring grand, elegant Frank Langella. There are really only a handful of scenes worth seeing.

The New Yorker C-
(John Lahr) As More, Frank Langella lets virtuosity substitute for humanity. More's love is for his soul ("A man's soul is his self," he says); Langella's love is for his sound. He cants, he booms, he confides. It's a seductive, even imposing, display, whose command rushes the audience swiftly past any ideas. More had gravitas; Langella has grandiosity. With his external playing, he can't connect to More's scrupulous internal rigor. Whether he's inspecting a silver goblet, holding his cuffs to slip into his robe, or fiddling with his fingers as he reads a book, Langella's decorative filigrees of gesture telegraph vanity, not spirituality, making him, more precisely, a ham for all seasons.

New York Magazine D
(Scott Brown) The first thing you notice about Doug Hughes's production of A Man for All Seasons is the pitilessly rectilinear set: great mission-minded timbers from the pages of Architectural Digest, lit like a high-end McMansion. Turns out design is destiny: This Man, like its carpentry, is square, sterile, and wooden—a cigar-store Indian with a painted tear.

Village Voice D
(Michael Feingold) Doug Hughes's heavy-handed production seems determined to enshrine its title character, Sir Thomas More (Frank Langella), as a Romantic-era hero-martyr, Sydney Carton in a Tudor doublet...Hughes omits [the Common Man] character, which is roughly like doing Threepenny Opera without the songs...Lacking him, [the play] feels shabby, pompous, and monochrome.

The Journal News: A+ 14; CurtainUp: A+ 14; Philadelphia Inquirer: A 13; WSJ A- 12; Theatermania: A- 12; Theater News Online B+ 11; The Record: B 10; USAToday: B 10; Newsday: B 10; The Washington Post: B 10; Hartford Courant: B 10; New Jersey Star-Ledger: B 10; Variety: B 10; New York Post: B- 9; Bloomberg: B- 9; Associated Press: B- 9; Backstage: B- 9; Talkin' Broadway: C+ 8; The Daily News: C 7; The Hollywood Reporter: C 7; The New York Times: C- 6; AM New York: C- 6; Time Out NY: C- 6; The New Yorker C- 6; Village Voice D 4; New York Magazine D 4 TOTAL: 236 / 26 = 9.1 (B-)

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