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Theater review

‘The Real Thing’ a Real Great Performance

By Jacqueline O’Connor

The Real Thing

Written by Tom Stoppard

Huntington Theatre Company

Evan Yionoulis, director

Sept. 9–Oct. 9, 2005

Boston University Theatre

Tom Stoppard is a literary genius. In the future, youngsters will be able to quote memorable lines from Stoppard’s plays such as “Arcadia,” “Rosenscrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” and “The Real Thing” just as they rattle off lines like “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Stoppard’s writing, much like Shakespeare’s, has a human element. Not too lofty, not too dull, each of his plays draws the audience into the world depicted on the stage. Unlike many plays, though, the world on the stage is our world, the same one that each of us experiences every day. Viewers befriend the characters, laugh at their quips, and choke on their tears.

Most importantly, though, Stoppard is smart. His plays are dangerously honest, sharply critical, and deeply meaningful while still being immensely entertaining. The dialogue flows like any conversation between intelligent people — thoughtfulness, passion, and sarcasm all fall into place naturally. This delicate balance makes each play a formidable challenge to perform.

“The Real Thing” is especially difficult because it deals with the tenuous topics of true love and fidelity. Raw emotions and the search for “the real thing” are the focal points of the work.

The play tells the story of four adults, three actors, and a playwright, who are still trying to find true love. When actress Annie, originally married to actor Max, leaves him for playwright Henry, then married to actress Charlotte, Max’s world is shattered while Annie and Henry start a blissful life together. Years pass and though life seems to equilibrate, each character still asks himself the question, “Is this the real thing?” Said to be Stoppard’s most autobiographical work, “The Real Thing” focuses on the life of a playwright and his beliefs on and passions for writing, music, and love.

The Huntington Theatre Company deftly conquered the challenges of performing a Stoppard play and put on an amazing production. The set was impressive in the way it preserved the familiarity of someone’s home amidst the vastness of the stage, complete with vaulted ceilings and gaping openings to a simulated sky. The sound design in the production was also excellent. Stoppard, renowned for detailing precise instructions in his scripts, called for specific music to be played on stage by radios and turntables and then for the same song to crescendo into a full theater sound at the end of each scene. These transitions were flawless. Music selections included Strauss’s “Skater’s Waltz,” Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Into Something Good,” and The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” — all Henry’s favorites.

The talented Huntington Theatre Company cast expertly handled Stoppard’s difficult script. Their emotions were powerful, the dialogue was subtle, and the overall cadence of the play fit together seamlessly. Most notably, Rufus Collins played the role of Henry with profundity and comedic cleverness. Stoppard has much to say through Henry’s character, and Collins gave a convincing performance, leaving the minds of the audience racing even after the curtain call. My only criticism of the performance is that the British accents of most of the cast were not entirely convincing. Despite this, each actor delivered a splendid performance.

“The Real Thing” is particularly poignant in that it touches on so many aspects of life that each of us grapple with. As college students, we believe that our social lives couldn’t become any more complicated, yet Stoppard shows that this tumult is a recurring theme throughout life. The play stresses the importance of friends, lovers, and passions and also emphasizes the importance of intellect and having intellectual people to surround us in life. Finally, Henry’s love for The Crystals, The Righteous Brothers, and The Monkeys makes me feel much better about my secret love for Grand Funk Railroad.