The Real Thing - Is It A "Real Thing"?

Is It A 'Real Thing'?
Stoppard's work is exceptional despite a few production flaws
By Nicholas Cifuentes

Henry (Rufus Collins) contemplates his future with wife Charlotte and mistress

It doesn't seem as if Tom Stoppard's notoriety has peaked yet.  After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead debuted in 1966, Stoppard's influence on the stage seemed unmatchable.  Writing the script (with Marc Norman) for Shakespeare in Love (1998), Stoppard had been claimed one of the most important dramatic writers of the late-twentieth century.  Along the way, he wrote a fascinating play featuring love at its rawest form, touching the depths of lust in a play entitled, The Real Thing

Annie (Kate Nowlin) and Max (Matthew Boston) join Henry (Rufus Collins) and Charlotte (Meg Gibson) for an impromptu brunch that turns sour

First produced in 1982 on London's West End, The Real Thing debuted to commercial and critical success before traveling to Broadway two years later.  Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons featured an astonishing look at what love is verily about.  The production won several Antoinette 'Tony' Perry Awards.

Life imitates art as fellow actors Annie (Kate Nowlin) and Billy (William Thompson), rehearse a steamy scene then make one of their own

The Huntington Theater Company in Boston opened its doors to a 24th season September 9 featuring Stoppard's adulterous witticism in The Real Thing.  The play focuses upon Henry, who like Stoppard, is a successful playwright.  Henry is married to an actress, Charlotte, who is enacting the lead in his current play.  But he has fallen in love with another actress, Annie, for whom he soon leaves Charlotte.  Is his new love 'the real thing?'  Taking place in London, early 80's, the characters seem to focus around love and adultery.  Stoppard converges the two in a unique dramatized setting.  Does art influence life?  Can life imitate art?  Must art have a political and social value, as many people in Britain were then arguing, or can it stand alone, as art for art's sake?  Stoppard argues that intellectuals are taking political expression for literature, and he makes a strong case that art should be valued for its aesthetic merits alone. 

(L.-r.) Meg Gibson ("Charlotte"), Rufus Collins ("Henry") and Pepper Binkley ("Debbie") in rehearsal for the Huntington Theatre Company's production of "The Real Thing"

The first act of the play seems to drag a bit.  The drawn-out monologues might seem to bore a younger audience, but it what it seemed to actually do, was setup a very entertaining second act.  Henry, played by Rufus Collins, plays the classical 'defectless' playwright, who loves nothing more than to address every concern with a priceless wit.  Although abrasive at times, he takes abounding control of the stage in every aspect.  His provoked heart falls for the divine Annie, played by Kate Nowlin, who does a marvelous job being an unbridled temptress.  She flowered stage adamantly, playing well off an accomplished Collins.

Max (Matthew Boston) tricks Charlotte (Meg Gibson) into admitting her infidelity

The characters of Charlotte and Max, played by a Meg Gibson and Matthew Boston, respectably, matched their counterparts well.  Although stagnant at times, they effectively allow each character to breath on their own.  Their scenes seemed pressed at times but successfully captured what Stoppard aimed these characters to portray, questioning souls, which rival love.

Henry (Rufus Collins) believes good writing is like a good cricket bat

Although the production does not do it complete justice, it still very much reveals what Stoppard wants his audience to see.  Collins steals the stage as Henry and makes the play that much more worth going to see.  Besides main characters, a few minor roles are seemingly played as well.  Pepper Brinkley does a wonderful job as Debbie, the rebellious daughter of Henry and Charlotte, who only takes the stage for one scene, but commands attention.  Billy, played by William Thompson, is the young actor who plays off of Annie in one of Henry's plays, and momentarily plays her heart as well. 

Henry (Rufus Collins) a devoted lover of 1960s pop music, enlists wife Charlotte (Meg Gibson) to help him choose records for an appearance on a radio program

Directed by Evan Yionoulis, she does a wonderful job capturing the empty love that seems to camouflage the barren stage she designed.  Teaching at the Yale School of Drama, she knows how to direct real love that makes no attempt at peculating from what Stoppard represents in The Real Thing.

In the end, the lavishness and consistency of The Real Thing allows this play to celebrate rabidly in the comparable feeling relationships and love give to the world today.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The Real Thing
Directed by Evan Yionoulis
Huntington Theater Company
Sept. 9-Oct. 9, 2005
Tickets $15-$70







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