The Roundabout knows well how to tell a rich and colorful story with the use of one basic, functional set. Keeping the presentation simple allows the focus to rest on the performances of the actors, and with Frank Langella leading the pack, this proves successful in this current production of A Man for All Seasons by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Langella last appeared on Broadway as Richard Nixon, so it is in a much different cloth that he comes to us as Sir Thomas More, though his command of the stage remains consistent.
With a resounding voice that needs no amplification to bounce off the furthest reaches of the house, he speaks the speech. Langella's More is one who seems to know that he is somehow doomed by his conviction almost from the play's outset. He maintains this undercurrent of concern while exploring More's many other nuances, though self-righteousness is not one of them. While playing a devoutly religious man, Langella opts to focus on More as a man of moral conviction who lives by the letter of the law. Conserving his peaks for a few well-placed moments, Langella sets a pace that is both captivating and rewarding for anyone willing to follow.
Zach Grenier, playing Thomas Cromwell, makes a formidable foe to Langella's saint. Though the play itself, as written by the late Robert Bolt, does little to explain Cromwell's personal motivations, Grenier manages to keep this secret alive in his performance. Keeping these characters in period while making them relatable is something that this cast handles well, the best example being Dakin Matthews's Cardinal Wolsey and the worst being Michel Gill's Duke of Norfolk. Matthews carries the weight of his character like a man of great formal power and position, yet entirely human in the company of More. Gill comes off as a little too contemporary, not so much bridging the gap between nobility then and the wealthy country clubbers of today as playing Norfolk as a man with a sweater around his neck and little between his ears.
Doug Hughes's direction effectively keeps the movement fluid, avoiding complete blackouts. Making good use of Santo Loquasto's many-beamed set design to maintain this movement, he also utilizes it to further the inward lives of the characters. More's home, like his conscience, is unfettered by barriers, whereas the spaces inhabited by all others is partitioned off by a series of walls that help separate their exteriors from what they are inside. Though Thomas's approach to living is indisputably more admirable, Hughes leaves this seemingly obvious decision to the audience, placing them as the silent jury in the trial that ultimately leads to More's death sentence. Much like criticizing President Bush at this late date, the choice is a little too easy to agree with and somewhat heavy-handed.
However, this is partly the way the play was written, presenting us with a political figure of ideals and principles very far from those we know today, leaving one to wonder if we'll ever get the chance to crucify one such as Sir Thomas More again. - C. Jefferson Thom
A Man for All Seasons is playing at the American Airlines Theatre 227 West 42nd Street, running through December 14.
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.