Tom Stoppard’s semi-autobiographical play The Real Thing won a Tony Award in 1984 and starred Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close and Christine Baranski who won for Best Supporting Actress. It is easy to see why Studio Theatre and Artistic Director David Muse chose this play to be part of its current season. It gives a chance for the performer to dig into Stoppard’s language and, as in all of Stoppard’s plays, there is a lot of it. The Real Thing tackles the issues of infidelity, trust in a relationship, and ultimately finding true love. It is a play that demands your utmost attention, so if you think this is a light romp you are mistaken.
…an early Stoppard piece that does deserve your time and attention.
The set up is as follows. In what turns out to be a play within a play, Max (Dan Domingues) accuses his wife Charlotte (Caroline Bootle Pendergast) of adultery. He does so by going through her things while she is gone on business. Charlotte, the actress, is married to a playwright named Henry (Teagle F. Bougere) and Max is married to Annie (Annie Purcell) who is an activist for a vandal in prison named Brodie (Tim Getman). Annie and Henry end up having an affair and Annie leaves Max and Henry leaves Charlotte. Henry and Annie then marry. Later on in the play Annie is cast in a show in Glasgow where she meets Billy (Enrico Nassi) who is Annie’s co-star in the play. You can see where this is heading and I’m not giving anymore away.
This is a case where the performances and the production make the show. If this play were in less capable hands the script might have been, as the Brits would say, “A crashing bore.” While it does take a while to get going, it will in the end engage you.
I cannot help but be amazed again by Teagle F. Bougere as an actor. This is the second time this season at Studio Theatre where he stepped on stage and held the audience spellbound. The chemistry he has with Annie Purcell is something to marvel at. Annie Purcell matches Bougere with a commanding presence. Here is a case where the character might have been played pitifully and over-dramatic. Purcell does not do either of these and because of that her Annie is someone you can root for even when things go off the rails for her.
Dan Domingues and Caroline Bootle Pendergast both turn in solid performances as Max and Charlotte respectively. Enrico Nassi as Billy made you despise his character for doing what he did with Annie. Tim Getman as Brody who comes on toward the end of the play shows us a less clean cut side than I am used to seeing him play onstage. The result was wonderful. Barrett Doss as Henry and Charlotte’s daughter Debbie makes the most of her limited stage time as a teenager with her own views on monogamy.
Production elements fill Studio Thetare’s Milton Theatre space. The audience is seated in the round and upon entering the theatre is hit by a fully carpeted yet minimal and functional set by James Noone. Complete with turntable the set is able to show multiple locations without lots of clunky scenery. Lighting Designer Brian MacDevitt compliments Noone’s set with a couple of snazzy lighting effects that simulate a train and a rotating beam like image on the floor for transitions that gives us a dissolve-like effect that we would see in a movie to get us from scene to scene.
Again, Sound Designer Matthew Nielson’s effects complete with old style vinyl recordings shows us again why he is one of DC’s best designers, always tasteful and capturing the play perfectly.
Director David Muse has done a yeoman’s job of wading through Stoppard’s sometimes wordy text. His staging gets to the essence of the characters and brings the story to the forefront.
While The Real Thing is not necessarily for everyone, if you do go see it there is plenty to like. With a fine bunch of performers, great production elements, and Muse helming it all, The Real Thing is an early Stoppard piece that does deserve your time and attention.
Note: Not for audience members with a short attention span. It is Stoppard after all.
Running Time: Two Hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The Real Thing plays through June 30,2013 at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.