The Real Thing: Does it Really Exist When it Comes to Love?

For those of us not involved in the acting world, love is complex and we spend much time trying to find our soul mate.  In the Huntington Theatre Company's September 14, 2005 performance of Tom Stoppard's 'The Real Thing', we see a group of actors struggling to find truth in love, relationships and writing.

Annie and Max with Henry and Charlotte

Directed by Evan Yionoulis, The Real Thing's minimal set worked well with the intellectual and complex nature of the dialog.  The transitions between acts were clean, and the use of snow in one scene helped to signal the passing of time.  The lighting worked well, especially with shadows by the doorway and the train scenes.  The four main actors: Henry played by Rufus Collins, Annie played by Kate Nowlin, Max by Matthew Boston and Charlotte by Meg Gibson, gave stellar performances.  Collins magnificently captured Henry's deep intellect and confusion about love and his feelings.

Henry and Annie share a tender moment

Opening with intense emotion, Max is home, waiting for his wife Charlotte to arrive.  He has uncovered her lie of traveling to Switzerland and accuses her of taking another lover. This scene, imitating real life, is actually from an ill-reviewed play that Henry is directing, The House of Cards.  In the next scene, Annie, Max's real wife, and Henry steal playful moments, while Charlotte, Henry's wife, and Max are making dip in the kitchen, and dare each other to tell their spouses that they are in love.  A careless mistake uncovers their secret, and they eventually marry.

The relationship between Henry and Annie continues to be tested throughout the play. Henry cannot write a new play about love for Annie.  Marked as uncaring by both women in his life, and we are left to wonder if Henry is just too intellectual of if he will find a way to express love.  Annie also becomes involved with another actor and is a champion of a political prisoner, both of which spike jealousy for Henry.

Writing is like a good cricket bat

In perhaps the best scene of the play, Annie tries to convince Henry to produce a play that her imprisoned activist friend, Brodie, has written.  Henry claims that Brodie is a terrible writer and goes on to discuss how writing is like cricket.  He discusses the layers of a cricket bat, and how writers need to have the ability to put an idea out there that will carry, not drop after ten feet.  It is implied that the same idea can be applied to relationships and love. 

Music has a prominent place in this play, adding more depth to the clever and witty dialog.  Each scene opens and closes with a song mostly pop songs from the 1950s and 60s.  At one point, the audience roared in laughter when Henry claims that Bach stole the melody from Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade of Pale'.  In the first act, Henry agonizes over his upcoming appearance on Desert Island Discs a BBC radio program on which famous personalities choose eight records they would like to have if stranded.  Being an intellectual and reveling in the title, Henry fears he will be mocked for his unsophisticated taste in music and tries to find music outside of his 60s pop favorites.  He searches for records, and ultimately the conversation turns back to his real music taste.  The four main characters end the scene by singing the fitting song by The Righteous Brothers, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling'.

Charlotte helps Henry select music for his radio show

While I enjoyed most of the play, the last scene let me down.  Brodie is released from prison after his play is produced, and visits Henry and Charlotte.  We find out that he is not such a great political activist, and really is a bit of a loser that tried to impress a woman.  After his appearance, I found myself trying to figure out why Henry would love a woman like Charlotte.  Maybe we're supposed to believe that he's found the real thing.

Tom Stoppard's 'The Real Thing' runs through October 9 at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue in Boston.  Tickets can be purchased in person at the BU Theatre Box Office and the Calderwood Pavilion Box Office, 527 Tremont Street, by calling 617-266-0800 or on the Web at

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

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