The Real Thing Review – A Complex Look at Love and Relationships

Writers’ Theatre celebrates  its' 20th Anniversary season, 2011/12,  as Artistic Director, Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma present The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard, directed by Artistic Director, Michael Halberstam. The production features Sean Fortunato (Henry), Natasha Lowe (Charlotte), John Sanders (Max), Ryan Hallahan (Brodie), Carrie Coon (Annie), Rae Gray (Debbie) and Jordan Lane Shappell (Billy).

Complex, fascinating and very funny with Tom Stoppard’s wonderful, musical language and filled with biting wit, the play is a wide-ranging experience  There is a constant search for “The Real Thing” as the situations in the plays within the play and the play, itself, blur.  And to some extent it blurs even more because the playwright in the play has many similarities to Tom Stoppard, the playwright.


Set in London in 1981, we first meet Max and Charlotte.  Charlotte is married to Henry who writes plays in which Charlotte performs.  Max is married to Annie who is also an actress but she is on a mission to save Brodie, a questionable character that she believes, has been unjustly jailed.  Charlotte and Henry have a 17-year old daughter, Debbie.

Very soon, we learn that Henry and Annie are madly in love and soon ditch their partners. Henry sees in Annie all that he used to see in Charlotte.  And then we see the trials and tribulations of this relationship and wonder if it will be lasting and real. Other playwrights' views - from the 17th- century John Ford to Strindberg, Wilde and Coward are woven in providing much to think about.  One of the stresses is Annie’s stay in Glagow, where she is cast in a production of a tragedy by John Ford, Tis a Pity She’s a Whore dating to 1629 Her train ride there introduces us to an actor in the play, Billy and a relationship that complicates things even more.

The intimate space at Writers’ Theatre was the perfect for this play, which was personal and emotional. All of the acting was strong but Sean Fortunato as Henry was completely convincing as the playwright and demonstrated a wide range of talents and was particularly impressive in that he was nearly always on stage. Carrie Coon as Annie brought depth to the character and the performance was outstanding.

The designers are Collette Pollard (set), Heather Gilbert (lighting), David Hyman (costumes) and Nick Heggestad (properties).  Production stage manager is David Castellanow and assistant director is Avital Rutenberg Schoenberg.


Music was very important in the play, and provided an additional dimension as it revealed changes in Henry’s relationship with Annie.  The sets were perfect for the time. I especially liked the way the train was depicted.  However, toward the end of the play, there were so many rapid set changes that it detracted from the pacing of the story.


The Real Thing is considered to be one of Tom Stoppard’s most moving plays and one that looks deeply into love, art, marriage and what it all about.  Fifteen years after Stoppard’s debut, The Real Thing opened in London’s West End in 1982 and became one of his most popular plays running for two and a half years.  The original Broadway production opened in 1984 under Mike Nichols’ direction and ran for eighteen months.  This is a delightful production and gives you plenty to think about when you leave.  You may even want to see it more than once.

Tickets are $45-$65 and are available at the Box Office, 376 Park Avenue, Glencoe; 847-242-6000 or online at


Post-show discussions will be held following all Wednesday evening performances as part of the Audience Enrichment Program. Join the artistic staff and actors from the production after the performance for an in-depth conversation. For more information, visit


Follow Writers' Theatre on Twitter ( and everyday by 3:00pm, Writers' will Tweet a code that can be used to purchase remaining seats for that day’s performance at a discount. Tweet Seats are available for purchase only through the Writers' Theatre website at   

Photos: Michael Brosilow



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