Match A new play by Stephen Belber. Directed by Nicholas Martin. Set design by James Noone. Costume design by Michael Krass. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt. Sound design by Kurt Kellenberger, Jerry Yager. Fight Director Rick Sordelet. Cast: Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, Jane Adams.
Tobi Powell knits. He saves his clipped fingernails in a jar. When he has guests, he wants to make them feel completely at home. He's a world-class dancer, choreographer, and teacher whose focused, meticulous nature has made him, over the last four decades, a one-of-a-kind presence onstage and off. He's a man who always needs to be the center of attention.
That makes Tobi a natural role for Frank Langella, who's finally returning to Broadway after his great success in Fortune's Fool two years ago. His work as Tobi in Stephen Belber's Match, which just opened at the Plymouth Theatre, is as singular now as his Tropatchov was in 2002. Match may be newer and smaller (in several ways) but Langella's present is, from beginning to end, deeply felt.
Given the way Belber has written the role, it's no surprise that the restrained flamboyance Langella so easily projects is such a perfect fit for Tobi. In the way he walks, with a light touch; in the way he stands, as if always ready to give way to a pirouette; or the way he speaks, in unsure, measured tones, he is every bit the dancer who has lived his life in the public eye.
Beneath it all, there are faint echoes of dissatisfaction, of longing for more than what he's been able to create for himself. When Tobi drops his barriers and lets his emotions show, it becomes clear he's in touch with those as well, and you begin to understand the magnetism that made Tobi such a force in the world of dance. He's disciplined in how he follows pre-ordained patterns, but he never does it in quite the way you expect.
So, when he's visited in his Inwood apartment (nicely designed by James Noone and beautifully lit by Brian MacDevitt) by a young Seattle couple, Mike and Lisa (Ray Liotta and Jane Adams), it certainly seems as if the usual person he presents to the world will be sufficient. Lisa explains that she's working on her dissertation about the development of classical dance choreography and wants to interview Tobi about his involvement, and Mike's there to help keep her focused on her work.
While Tobi is at first in his element, it soon becomes clear that Lisa's line of questioning is taking them all down a much different road. As the questions become more pointed and person, Tobi starts to close off, but Mike, policeman, is not willing to let him off the hook so easily - he has something at stake, too. It's something only Tobi can assist him with: he needs information about his mother, a dancer at the same time Tobi's career was gaining prominence, and he acts as if his life is at stake.
In a way, all their lives are. Tobi shuts himself up in his apartment while not onstage; Mike is on a search to discover his true identity and reason for being; and Lisa, desperately in love with Mike, finds her affections are seldom returned and her needs almost never fulfilled. It soon becomes obvious that no one in the play can truly leave the others until his or her needs are met.
Belber does an excellent job developing his story, dropping in just enough clues to keep interest high without giving away too much too early. Director Nicholas Martin does very well at latching onto the show's comedy, keeping it firmly in mind even during the more serious moments. This gives everything an airy, barely corporeal feeling suggesting a world just on the edge of fantasy. That's just right for three characters who can't avoid lying to themselves and to others.
He can't, however, keep Match from becoming Langella's show. The other two actors are perfectly fine in their roles - Liotta's stiffness and just-stifled anger and Adams's attractive and bubbly flightiness make them seem like a "good cop, bad cop" pairing, just right for the investigative work their characters are doing. But the detail, the color, and all the little embellishments around the edges set Langella apart.
It's quite possible that even a less compelling performer than Langella could walk away with the show; it's just written that way. And Belber certainly could have better defined Mike and Lisa, making them as unique contributors to each other and the play as he did Tobi. But aside from that and a bit of clunky, mis-paced writing in the second act, Belber's work is good - very funny, often surprising, and even sweet at times, particular when everyone's questions are answered.
But it's Langella who leaves the lasting impression as Tobi, nailing every joke, every emotion whether honest or affected, and every minute bit of characterization that makes him such a humorous and ultimately lovable figure. If some parts of the play occasionally go astray, it doesn't matter when Langella's in charge; he and Match are a perfect match.