Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Real Thing"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2002 by Susan Daniels

"The Real Thing"

by Susan Daniels

Tom Stoppard is a theatrical genre unto himself. His plays, witty, entertaining, and intellectually challenging, are well conceived dramatic outings that depict the absurdity of life intermingled with moral probings.

Known for his absurdist plays, particularly his first big success, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," produced early in his career during the 60's, he has been recognized, more recently, as the screenwriter for the multi-award winning film, "Shakespeare in Love." In between, Stoppard penned "The Real Thing," the 1984 Tony Award winning play, currently performing at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton through June 2.

As the play opens, a man confronts his wife after discovering that she has been unfaithful to him. But in true Stoppard fashion, things are never what they seem. The scene is from a play {within this play} where Charlotte, who played the wife in the opening episode, is actually married to Henry, the playwright. Max, who played the husband, is really a friend of theirs, and married to Annie, another actress. Henry and Annie, who are having an affair, are eventually discovered, leading to the termination of both marriages and to Henry and Annie moving in together. Life continues imitating art as Henry's relationship with Annie is tested when Billy, a young actor who is in a Glasgow performance of "Tis Pity She's A Whore" with her, enters the picture. There are additional complications as Henry doctors a script written by Brodie, a young private jailed for attacking some policemen at an anti-missile demonstration; Henry and Charlotte's daughter from Hell, Debbie, pays a visit; and, in order to cover alimony payments to Charlotte, Henry is downgraded to writing film scripts instead of "the real thing."

In true Stoppard fashion, there are clever lines rife with double and triple meanings, often requiring a broad knowledge of the arts, history, literature, and past and current events in order to truly appreciate his wizardry with words.

Music also plays a major role by accenting the action with selections from the pop chart. In the first act, Max sadly ruminates over the loss of his wife to the song, Bring Back That Loving Feeling." And the Neil Diamond/Monkees tune, "I'm A Believer," closes the play as Henry expresses his faith in the significance of writing: "I don't think writers are sacred, but words are."

Director Rick Lombardo has an eye and ear for the popular English playwright as evidenced by the cast, deftly led by Neil Stewart as Henry and local actor/director/producer Debra Wise as Annie. As an ensemble, the cast demonstrates credible transitions from high to low emotions and shines at Stoppard's intricate word play, particularly London-trained Neil Stewart as Henry and Natalie Brown as Charlotte. With an incisive wit that sears to the marrow and an understanding of human dynamics that throttles the senses, "The Real Thing" challenges the audience by demanding that they enter the theater ready to laugh while simultaneously contemplating serious issues.

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

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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