Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Real Thing"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"The Real Thing"

by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner Jr.
Costume Design by Lara Southerland
Production Stage Manager Hope Rose Kelly

Max..................Stephen Russell
Charlotte.............Natalie Brown
Henry.....................Neil Stewart
Annie.......................Debra Wise
Billy..............Tommy Day Carey
Debbie...................Alicia Racine
Brodie....................Jake Suffian

This is a time of plentiful harvest for theater-goers, with three of our leading companies offering splendid work --- and I was privileged to see two of them back-to-back. (The one I have yet to see is the Lyric Stage of Boston's "Lend Me A Tenor" which stars half a dozen of Boston's best actors in what everyone tells me is a laugh-a-minute farce.) Last Friday I saw Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" at The New Rep, closely following Thursday's performance by the SpeakEasy Stage Company of Stephen Sondheim's sublime one-act "Passion"! The last two deal, in unique styles, with love and infidelity and are stunningly performed. Anyone seeing one really ought to see both --- and anyone who loves theater must see all three! Let me tackle "The Real Thing" first.

Tom Stoppard is a gloriously theatrical juggler who cannot forget reading philosophy at Cambridge. The New Repertory Theatre's Director Rick Lombardo and seven magnificent actors have managed to keep two or three concepts in the air at all times in this terribly English drawing-room farce that rings all the possible changes on real and suspected hanky-panky in the off-stage lives of theater people ...with room left over for a harangue or two Stoppard couldn't resist including. Very profound silliness I'd call it, and great fun. I really hate spoiling any of the show's many surprises --- you should stop reading Right Now and book tickets before they're all sold out --- but perhaps a few hints are in order to keep the lines and the plots and side-plots from jumbling into one another in your mind.

At the center of the action is Janie E. Howland's revolving stage that makes complete, quick scene-changes possible. The action bounces about as fast as any screwball comedy, so some attention to what posters adorn the walls give good clues as to where and when things are taking place.

The play begins on stage; that is, it begins with a scene from a play, so it might be several minutes into the second scene before you realize this isn't scene two of that action, but one between the actress (Natalie Brown) who played a wife accused of infidelity and her real husband (Neil Stewart), who wrote that play. (Still with me so far?) Then the actor who played her husband (Stephen Russell) appears, and he's married to an actress too (Debra Wise) --- but She's deep into a secret affair with the playwright-chap, and they're all about to play a game of musical marriages, so that ----

Nope. I can't do it. Go see the damn thing and if you find something unclear drop me an e-mail and I'll straighten it out for you.

What I will say is that suspicion can creep into the mind of any man married to an actress --- with her playing love-scenes with other men or plunging off to Glasgow to rehearse kissing-scenes in " 'Tis Pity She's A Whore" or asking you to upgrade a perfectly dreadful excuse for a play written by an inarticulate yobbo (Jake Suffian) what's got locked up for setting fire to....

No, I said I wouldn't and I won't. Just go see this Wonderful play and leave the surprises to Stoppard.

One thing I must mention, though, is the acting! Eventually the play revolved (like the set!) around Neil as the playwright and Debra Wise as his actress-wife. Stewart keeps himself firmly in check, allowing Wise to bounce off in all directions. (She acts with her entire body --- especially her toes.) He is given a ringing diatribe --- pure Stoppard in full cry --- comparing the craftsmanship in good writing to (I kid you not) a well-made cricket-bat. He is also brilliantly subtle at never knowing Has she or Hasn't she --- and I ain't tellin'!

Rounding this excellent cast are Tommy Day Carey as the actor in Glasgow, and Alicia Racine as the sexually active no-nonsense teen that Stewart's playwright tries to play Victorian father for --- quite unsuccessfully of course.

It's a hell of an intellectually hilarious play, as different from "Passion" as night and day.

No one who loves good theater should miss Either One!


"The Real Thing" (1 May - 2 June)
54 Lincoln Street, Newton Highlands, MA 02461
1(617) 332-1646

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide