Q: Why did you select Man and Boy for Roundabout audiences?
A: The plays of Terence Rattigan have always been favorites of mine. I’ve been very interested in showing our audience one of his lesser-known dramas. We did a beautiful revival of The Deep Blue Sea in 1998, and Roundabout also produced his plays The Browning Version and The Winslow Boy in the early 1980s, before my time here. I’ve read and seen so much of Rattigan’s work, but I only got to know Man and Boy fairly recently. It struck me right away as the perfect choice. Somehow, this play from 1963 seems incredibly prescient – there are events in the story that could have been taken straight from the headlines any day in the past few years, and I think our audience will find that relevance both surprising and exciting. But even more importantly, this play has what I love so much about Rattigan’s writing: he writes well-made plays with characters who possess wonderfully deep emotional lives. It’s what sets him apart from his contemporaries. Winston Churchill actually once called Rattigan “a master of understatement,” and I couldn’t agree more. There’s a meaningful quiet in these plays, and I love how different that makes them from some of the classics we’ve revived lately. And with Frank Langella’s extraordinary talent to lend a deft hand to the lead character, it became clear that this was the right moment to embark on this production. Our audience has been seeing Shaw, Coward, and Wilde – all writers known for their dazzling wit and love of wordplay. To me, it’s exciting to venture over to the other end of the spectrum, where the dialogue is more sparing but no less beautiful in its own very different way.
Q: Roundabout has a long relationship with Frank Langella and a relatively new relationship with Maria Aitken. Tell us how these artists came together and what about this project made it all happen now.
A: The estate of Terence Rattigan is well aware of my affection for Rattigan’s plays, and they first sent me the script for Man and Boy, which I immediately liked. In speaking about directors, I remembered that Maria had done a very well-received production of this play about six years ago in the West End. I had a great experience working with Maria during The 39 Steps, so I was very happy to call her up about this play, and it turned out that this is one she was eager to return to. We actually both quickly realized that Frank Langella was absolutely perfect for the role of Antonescu. Roundabout has had a long and artistically rewarding relationship with Frank over the years, and I have to admit that he’s often at the forefront of my mind when I read a play. And in this case, it was just so clear that he was a truly great fit for the part. I think it will be fantastic both for him and for the audience, because we’ll get to see him inhabit this very deeply-written character who is actually quite different from anyone we’ve seen him play before. Any time you get to see an actor of Frank’s talent go into new territory, great things can happen.
Q: Despite being written in the 1960s, this play has a topical relevance that can’t be missed. What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
A: Man and Boy is about fathers and sons, truth and lies, identity and facades – all themes that are both universal and timeless. But it also speaks specifically to the kind of person who becomes so absorbed in his own greed that he will do anything to keep chasing after wealth, regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, we’ve seen all too much of that behavior lately. What I think the audience will respond to is that this play doesn’t just get inside the head of the man who has allowed himself to get caught up in his own mythology and commit so many misdeeds. Rattigan also shows us how the people around this character, from his son, to his wife, to his loyal employees, are affected by what he’s done. It’s impossible not to think about the Madoffs and the tragic effect that the pursuit of money had on that family and on many others. Greed is certainly not just a modern affliction, and I think Rattigan is very much tapping into its dangers with this play. And I’ve always seen Frank Langella as what you might call a “dangerous” actor. He’s not afraid to take risks or to let us in on the darkest parts of the character he’s playing. He’s made everything from a fop to a saint to a disgraced president feel absolutely of the moment, and I know that his performance will illuminate this play beautifully.
Q: Why do you think Rattigan plays are so infrequently produced and why do you think it will appeal to Roundabout audiences?
A: I find it so interesting that this play was written late in Rattigan’s career, when he was already falling out of fashion. This is a man who was the toast of British theatre for decades. In the 1930s and 1940s, he turned out success after success. But it all came crumbling down in 1956, when the “angry young men” came on the scene. Plays like John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger completely changed the fashion, and Rattigan’s emphasis on character and plot suddenly looked old-fashioned next to up-to-the-minute plays that were more focused on big ideas. Rattigan was all about empathy, and his characters were filled with emotion that they felt necessary to keep beneath the surface. It was a very upper-class way to behave, and when other writers decided that it was time to put the lower classes on stage and allow their emotions to burst through, everything changed. It’s taken a long time for Rattigan to regain the reputation that he once had and for audiences to appreciate both the excitement of watching highly stylized work and the deep emotional resonance that can come from watching a beautifully human drama. I’m quite interested to see how the Roundabout audience will react to starting the season with Man and Boy and then having the opportunity to see our revival of Look Back in Anger at the Pels in the winter. My hope is that, for all of us, it’s going to be a provocative contrast.
2011-2012 Season, From Todd Haimes, Man and Boy, Roundabout News