Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" won the best play Tony when it first opened on Broadway in 1984. Thursday night the Roundabout Theatre Company debuted a new star studded revival of the show. Roma Torre filed the following review.
Tom Stoppard wrote “The Real Thing” in 1982 yet this semi-autobiographical play is as resonant as ever. So consummate is the writing, it makes me want to re-assess all the other plays that drew such high praise from me in the past.
It starts much like a soap opera. Two couples having marital woes, but it quickly evolves into a richly evocative study of love, commitment and truth.
Stoppard is known for his high-brow pen. A wordsmith who can craft a clever line in his sleep. Yet there is tremendous insight beneath the skin of those words. And his glib dialogue peels away to reveal layers of subtext . This early drama is one of Stoppard’s most personal. And it’s filled with a worldly wisdom that is the mark of theatre at its best.
Lead character Henry is a nimble playwright who writes about love while living the lie of a rather loveless marriage to Charlotte, an actress. She’s starring in a play with Max, a friend of the couple who’s married to Annie, another actress. As the marriages crumble, Henry comes to discover that when love becomes the real thing, his sacred words elude him.
Sam Gold is a smart director, known for putting his own stamp on his productions. Here, bridging scenes, he has the actors sing pop tunes that are favorites of Henry. It adds little to the play but doesn't detract either.
Cynthia Nixon, featured at age 17 in the original Broadway production, is Charlotte now. She and Josh Hamilton as Max are quite good. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a deeply honest portrayal as Annie. But it takes a special talent to pull off Henry's awakening. And Ewan McGregor is just the man. He delivers an array of emotions in this role, each one more real than the next.
Some people find Tom Stoppard's writing not much more than brain candy but the brilliance of this eloquent writer is his ability to go beyond the head straight to the heart.