'Man and Boy': A Broadway play about greed and guilt

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The Occupy Wall Street protest moved uptown to Times Square, and the chants of "shame, shame, shame" followed by police sirens could be heard inside the theater as the play, about an international billionaire who swindled people, unfolded.

The coincidence ends there because in "Man and Boy," the felonious financier, Gregor Antonescu ( Frank Langella), is hunted and is either going to be arrested on international warrants, shot or he'll kill himself.

So life doesn't quite imitate art. Then again Terrence Rattigan's play, revived at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre, is set during the Great Depression. Rather than get handouts from governments and encouragement to bilk people so he can live like royalty, the great Antonescu is in deep trouble.

The play feels creaky at times, and a couple of the actors are too obviously acting and not just telling a story. It's not a great play, and the references to Bolshies and FDR sadly sail by some of the audience.

It is, however, the perfect vehicle for its star, the incomparable Langella.

Langella, who was the sexiest, most intense Dracula when he won over Broadway in 1977, has become a maestro of the stage, proven in last year's "A Man for All Seasons." Now in his 17th Broadway play and with three Tony Awards, an Emmy and an Oscar, Langella is justifiably celebrated.

In this, he plays a Romanian financier who has long cooked his books. Given that he's considered the savior of postwar Europe -- he brought electricity and roads to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and heads of state in the U.S. and throughout Europe will take his calls -- no one wants to believe that Antonescu is a swindler.

He needs a final deal and refuge. He seizes the latter in his son's Greenwich Village apartment. A dingy basement space, Basil Anthony ( Adam Driver) plays piano at a village bar for $26 a week, has an actress girlfriend ( Virginia Kull) and has tried to Americanize himself.

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The gist of the play is between the father, the man, and the son, the boy. All parent/child relationships are fraught with emotions, but theirs more so than most. How many sons have shot at their father -- with a gun the father gives him and tells him to shoot?

That was the last time the two saw each other -- on Basil's 18th birthday. Since, he moved to the Village, changed his name from Vassily, became a citizen and tried to distance himself from his father. But he can't -- not when his father is the most important financier in the world and a huge influence on his life.

"I'm not a Marxist," the son tells the father. 

"What are you?" the father asks.

"A socialist." 

"I never could tell the difference."

Langella is completely believable as an imperious European. With a flick of his wrist, the way he lights his cigarette, the way he sneers at those beneath him (everyone), Langella may as well be an exiled prince.

In fact, Mel Brooks told him decades ago that he sounded like a prince in search of a country, as Langella related to me in an interview a few years back. For a kid from Bayonne, N.J., Langella exudes a European elan usually found in people born to the manor.

The always-excellent Zach Grenier plays Mark Herries, an American magnate with whom Antonescu was about to merge a company. It was Herries' self-righteous -- and right --- accountant who found Antonescu's fancy accounting.

Just in case Antonescu wasn't slimy enough, he tries to pimp out his son to Herries. 

Though Sven ( Michael Siberry) -- Antonescu's lifelong assistant, bodyguard, secretary and all-around protector -- is interesting, and the Countess Antonescu ( Francesca Faridany), the financier's latest wife -- a former stenographer now fancy woman with firs and boyfriends -- is what's expected, what isn't is the raw emotion between father and son.

Though Basil wants to rip himself away from his father, he can't. He worships him and needs to help him. Ultimately, Antonescu is beyond help.

When Antonescu walks out into the night, there's a bit of ambiguity. Will he be caught? Will he kill himself? Will he somehow escape?

It's hard to imagine such measures being taken today, especially when police line Times Square, dozens of extra plastic handcuffs hanging from their pants, ready to arrest more protestors enraged over greed.
Photo/Video credit: Joan Marcus