A Few Men For All Seasons
“A Man For All Seasons” by Robert Bolt. This superior revival of the work, first produced in 1961, is directed by Doug Hughes. Featuring Frank Langella.
September 12-December 14, 2008
Roundabout Theatre, New York
“The Grand Inquisitor,” adapted by Marie-Helene Estienne, drawing on Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” Directed by Peter Brook; featuring Bruce Myers (Narrator), Jake M. Smith (Christ).
New York Theatre Workshop
Original production by C.I.C.T./ Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
Frank Langella is at the peak of his accomplishments–let’s just say, you can’t go higher than the top. He is so right, so persuasive as the heroic, Sir Thomas More, of “A Man for all Seasons,” anyone else in the role is unimaginable. Mr. Langella seems not to be acting; he somehow subsumes the role of Sir Thomas. This is not quite so automatic or predictable an event as it might be with a superior actor and a contemporary character. Sir Thomas and sixteenth century England are foreign, for all their familiarity as favorite subjects and settings for drama and film, popular and esoteric. The play needs to project the period without burdening itself with its own context. How else to put this? Film can do this with pictures; the play, well...
Mr. Langella speaks. The skill cannot be taken for granted nowadays–really; sorry to hint at the opposite–much less can the art, and Mr. Langella is an artist of the first rank. His lines are wonderfully well shaped, that almost goes without saying and, in any case, the poet-playwright Robert Bolt had something to do with this after all. But Mr. Langella possesses the lines. They strike us not as passages in a speech delivered by an actor so much as originating in an elsewhere and mysteriously conveyed via the stage. His person retreats or retires from view, even while his handsome face and thoughtful expression compel attention. It is an amazing event to witness, this transportation of the poetry to the audience–to put it as neutrally as possible. Further, the lines are not so well known; this is not in the class of “to be or not to be,” insisting on recognition. Each word here earns its attention. Finally, Sir Thomas More was, is, a saint and saints are not all that credible even before they get onstage. Once humanized as heroes, for instance, they rarely beat the villain for plain fun. In fact, there’s not been all that much to say about goodness out there since the medieval stage and the god character.
Otherwise, a brief play on the subject of good and evil comes now from Marie-Helene Estienne called “The Grand Inquisitor,” an adaptation of passages from Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” The passages are not well chosen; or are chosen with an aim not immediately apparent. They don’t jell as drama. The inquisitor or “Narrator” (Bruce Myers) harangues a lonely looking, young “Christ” (Jake M. Smith) on the latter’s “mission of salvation.” It seems not to be working. He, the Christ, has nothing much to say for it, or anything else. Still, this Inquisitor offers no threat nor even much opposition to the Christ figure. The style of their dialogue lacks urgency; it rather approaches conversation, albeit somewhat dull and one sided: one ‘speechifier’, one victim. Yet therein lies the unusual or unconventional arrangement of the figures in this slight piece: for the devil historically, conventionally gets to do the talking; has fun, and a sense of humor for pity’s sake. The Christ, like heaven’s other top ranking types, remains silent. Ah, well.