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NY Theater Reviews

Frank Langella/Ph: Sara Krulwich

CALM BEFORE THE STORM

By BILL STEVENSON

This revival of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons is above all, a showcase for the majestic theatrical talents of Frank Langella. His command of the stage is awe-inspiring.

With his brilliant performance in Frost/Nixon, Frank Langella gave himself a tough act to follow. In Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons he tackles a much saintlier historical figure, Sir Thomas More, a role that won Paul Scofield numerous awards. 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.

A Man for All Seasons is a thoughtful, serious 16th-century drama that touches on religion, the law, and the separation of church and state. Bolt skillfully provides the facts of More's clash with King Henry VIII ( Patrick Page) without letting the play feel like a dry history lesson. Henry VIII sought the approval of More, the widely respected Lord Chancellor of England, to approve of his divorce from Catherine so that he could marry his mistress Anne Boleyn ( who might provide him with a male heir). After the Pope declines to give his consent, More's support is even more crucial to the King. But the deeply religious More follows his conscience regardless of the consequences to him and his family.

Alternating understatement with occasional impassioned outbursts, Langella shows many sides of More. He's brainy, spiritual, stubborn, a loving father and husband. He's earnest, but has a sly sense of humor. Above all, he's a man who won't change his convictions even after he's sent to prison. Even in his quietest moments, Langella commands the stage. He has the audience in the palm of his hand for pretty much the entire two-hour-and- forty-minute running time.

The supporting cast seldom steals the spotlight from Langella but lends capable support. Maryann Plunkett is excellent as Thomas' long-suffering wife, Alice -Zach Grenier is suitably devious as Henry's henchman Thomas Cromwell - Dakin Matthew makes an oily and crafty Cardinal Wolsey and Page's Henry VIII is as charismatic as he is power- hungry.

Directed by Doug Hughes, the production is straightforward and generally strong. Santo Loquasto's set is utilitarian but accomodates scene changes efficiently. Catherine Zuber's costumes are splashier, particularly Wolsey's crimson robes and the King's gold coat. Conservative as it is, the Roundabout's production does justice to Bolt's smart play. It's crowning glory is unquestionably Langella's superb performance.