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September 15th, 2008

Man for All Seasons

What I should have been doing last night was work on the final revisions for The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. What I did do was go to see Man For All Seasons at the Roundabout Theatre. What was I going to do? It's Ellen's favorite play and Frank Langella (Dracula) as Thomas Moore and we've had the tickets for ages. And I do so love a good tragedy.

Which this so is. Moore is a rigidly upright man in an age where political corruption was safer as well as more profitable than honesty. Kind of like the McCarthy era, when Robert Bolt wrote the play. Kind of like now, actually--which is probably why it's being revisited. The production didn't stress the parallels--it was as beautifully period as the play itself--but judging from the rueful laughter at some of the more political lines, the audience was very aware indeed of the dangers of trusting in the letter of an unstable law.

Langella was wonderful. He was on stage practically every moment of the play, tall, massive, bald, older than Moore, but who cares. He does gravitas and thoughtfulness beautifully, also wry humor. I'd forgotten how funny a play this is, as well as how harrowing.

Given the thematic importance of the character of Richard Rich, I could find it in my heart to wish that they'd found an actor who knew how to play an individual who was lost in a fog of moral confusion. What they got looked a lot like a confused actor who couldn't quite believe the lines he was saying were the right ones. He was also kind of weedy looking and awkward, like a high school kid who doesn't know what to do with his costume. Ellen hated the Duke of Norfolk, who came off like a CEO in doublet, hose, and a velvet gown, but since that fit the part, I didn't mind so much.

The rest of the cast was excellent. I particularly loved (I almost wrote "hated") the guy who played Cromwell, who was thoroughly loathsome, but absolutely real. And Alice, whose irritable affection for her brilliant, unbending husband was very real.

If you're in New York and you've got access to cheap tickets (Broadway Box, TheatreMania, or even the Theatre Development Fund, which fills up the corners of houses at $35 a ticket, if you can prove you work in the arts and don't mind not knowing where you're going to sit until you go pick up your ticket), go see it. If you don't, watch the movie with Paul Scofield as Thomas, Wendy Hiller as Alice, and Leo McKern as Cromwell. Orson Welles was Cardinal Wolsey. There was a 1988 TV series as well, with Charlton Heston, of all people, as Thomas.

Go figure.


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