Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
A Man for All Seasons
(Roundabout Production Website)
Starring Frank Langella
By Robert Bolt
Directed by Doug Hughes
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 47th Street
Hannah Cabell, Michael Esper, Michel Gill, Zach Grenier,
Dakin Matthews, George Morfogen, Patrick Page,
Maryann Plunkett, Jeremy Strong, Charles Borland,
Peter Bradbury, Patricia Hodges, Triney Sandoval, Emily Dorsch
Set Design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: David Lander
Original Music and Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Hair and Wig Design: Tom Watson
Production Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA and Carrie Gardner
General Manager: Rebecca Habel
Technical Supervision: Steve Beers
Director of Marketing - Sales Promotions: David B. Steffen
Director of Development: Jeffory Lawson
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 11, 2008
(Sir Thomas More Bio)
(Thomas Cromwell Bio)
The Roundabout’s A Man for All Seasons has literary power but laborious theatricality. Frank Langella is a riveting presence at all times, as Sir Thomas More, the man who becomes Lord Chancellor of England in 1529 to King Henry VIII, and then resigns as Chancellor in 1532, when the King breaks with the Papacy of Rome. The historical references and details are best read in the Playbill synopsis, before Act I, as the play progresses with an assumption of audience awareness.
As the history unfolds, from 1529-1535, including a two-year “intermission”, Langella, as More, is transformed visibly from an arrogant, respected dignitary to a broken, limping martyr. More has refused to sign his acceptance of King Henry’s (Patrick Page) divorce from Catherine of Aragon (who is blamed for the King’s lack of a male heir), and he also refuses to sign acceptance of Anne Boleyn as the King’s rightful Queen, who was crowned in 1533. Thomas Cromwell (Zach Grenier), portrayed as a snake-like lawyerly type, with a way with words that can swallow his prey, investigates More for treason and arranges his imprisonment and execution. If this were not a play with such morose, prophetic, and dreaded drumbeats of danger, it would be the perfect plot for the Gilbert & Sullivan genre, and British to boot.
I remember the 1987 Roundabout production with Philip Bosco, Off-Broadway, and its more intimate setting (There’s nothing intimate about the expansive American Airlines Theatre). This is a play of well-chronicled moral-historical implications, and, as such, every word and nuance is critical to the audience. It should be mentioned up front that the sound design was lacking in clarity, and each time an actor faced stage left, right, or rear, the dialogue was muffled. However, Frank Langella exudes extraordinary presence and vocal power, and he consumes the stage and captivates his audience at every moment. His body language and expressiveness are so outsized, as his character (He literally becomes More) is tossed in the storms of the Crown and the Church. The varied visions of Langella in fine black robes, then torn, white prison garb, always emoting, never holding back, even in silence, are what we take from the theatre, after almost three hours. I would love to see Langella reprise this role in a simplified, smaller setting.
Patrick Page is charismatic and ironically humorous, as the King who serially disposes of a string of wives and counselors, and, when he sails to meet More at home and greets More’s educated daughter, he seems refined and even aesthetic, discussing chamber music and nature. Zach Grenier, as Thomas Cromwell, as mentioned above, is slithering and snake-like, a seething, scheming, man of the law (Secretary to Henry’s Privy Council). The themes of religion and royalty as rule and conscience were thought-provoking, but excessively ornamented in rapid verbosity. Jeremy Strong, as Richard Rich, a chameleon and spy, embodies that lack of conscience, that allows him to serve a man in his rise to power and then to assist in his torturous demise. Maryann Plunkett, as More’s wife, seems vapid and obedient, while Hannah Cabell, as More’s impassioned, quick-witted daughter, seems more defined. Michael Esper, as William Roper, Hannah's loyal husband, is replete with ardor.
Santo Loquasto’s tall, bare sets are excellently conceived for the dimensions of the production and allow for fascinating lighting effects of clouds, shifting sunlight, ocean, and the progress of time. David Lander’s lighting enhances the changing ambiance, with radiant, warm interiors of the hearth, shadowy starkness of the trial for treason, and then sunless, somber prison enclosures. Catherine Zuber’s period robes and costumes for More include long, black tights, as Langella changes clothing before our eyes to greet the King. Doug Hughes has directed with a touch of humor that lightens the literary monologues. He gives each character persuasive personality, even in lesser roles. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s A Man for All Seasons is in limited run through December 14, 2008.
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