Philip Bosco shines in `A Man for All Seasons'

A Man for All Seasons Play by Robert Bolt. Directed by Paul Giovanni. Starring Philip Bosco. That fine and versatile actor Philip Bosco extends his impressive range as Sir Thomas More in the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Robert Bolt's prize-winning ``A Man for All Seasons.''

In the past six months, Mr. Bosco has gone from the blustering Stalinist cultural bully of the Roundabout's ``Master Class,'' by David Pownall, to the benignly solicitous Waiter of ``You Never Can Tell,'' a Shaw revival by the Circle in the Square. Now he is exploring the complex uprightness of the scholar-statesman who defied Henry VIII by refusing to acknowledge the king's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

As the central figure in this great Renaissance confrontation over the Pope's jurisdiction, Bosco invests More's character with the kind of direct openness that marks even the most subtle explanations of his stand. The actor conveys the absolute integrity of a man equally unmoved by the earnest importunings of friends like the Duke of Norfolk (George Guidall), or the increasingly brutal campaign by Thomas Cromwell on the king's behalf.

By employing a Common Man (Charles Keating) as narrator-commentator, the author applied his own version of Brechtian theory to ``A Man for All Seasons.'' In his preface to the published play, the author recalls that the device didn't come off quite as he intended, since different parts of the audience viewed the character differently.

Whatever the case in 1960, at this remove the Common Man seems an ideal interlocutor for this 16th-century chronicle. He provides a succession of lively marginal notes, delivered with quips and wry humor. He also turns up in a series of incidental guises. Mr. Keating (perhaps best known as Rex Mottram in PBS's ``Brideshead Revisited'') puts his own stamp on the part. With a cockney accent and an impudent manner, he makes this descendant of ``Old Adam'' a Common Man for all circumstances.

Paul Giovanni's staging mingles elements of the contemporary within the historic context. More's principal antagonist, Thomas Cromwell, gets a boldly aggressive reading from Robert Stattel. For the distaff members of More's family, there are Diane Venora, to portray the grace and scholarship of beautiful daughter Margaret, and Maria Tucci, to express the conflicting emotions of a steadfastly loyal wife baffled by her husband's spiritual-intellectual wrestlings.

Besides those already mentioned, the revival includes good performances by Campbell Scott as the opportunistic Richard Rich, J. Kenneth Campbell as a dangerously boisterous Henry VIII, Ted van Griethuysen as the Spanish ambassador, Patrick O'Connell as the headstrong William Roper, who marries Margaret More, and Ron Randell, doubling as Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cranmer.

Daniel Ettinger has designed an all-purpose period setting to accommodate the play's 16 fluidly changing scenes, with lighting by Dawn Chiang and an array of costumes by Abigail Murray to suit the demands of this literate and stirring Renaissance drama. It runs through Jan. 25.

``A Man for All Seasons'' can startle a spectator with its recurring contemporary relevance in lines like ``...when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties ... they lead their country by a short route to chaos'' (Sir Thomas). Or, ``the normal aim of administration is to keep steady the factor of convenience'' (Cromwell). Or, ``...I'm a plain and simple man and just want to keep out of trouble'' (The Common Man as Jailer).

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