BWW Review: THE REAL THING is Not Real Entertaining

Tom Stoppard's THE REAL THING is a structurally complex play that uses the gimmick of the play-within-a-play to examine the concepts of marriage and infidelity. It debuted in London in 1982 and two years later was on Broadway.

The talented cast performing in this Austin Playhouse production directed by Don Toner mostly seems to have missed the subtlety of Stoppard's satire, playing this cutting comedy of manners more as earnest drama. This sort of expressionistic and sort of not production, is confusing at first sight. Mike Toner's ingenious set is a bit cold and unforgiving... high white squares that morph into other rooms.

The play begins as a showdown between husband Max and his adulterous wife, Charlotte, played by Samuel Knowlton and Bernadette Nason. The audience then discovers that Max and Charlotte are actors in a play written by Charlotte's husband, Henry (David Stahl). The play mirrors their own relationship, so, things look pretty grim for this marriage. It is also pretty confusing for the audience because at the casual level the entire evening is played, it's hard to distinguish play from within-a-play.

THE REAL THING is uncharacteristically candid Stoppard, as he is considering the essential inadequacy of any playwright to recreate on stage the existential "reality" of life. Does a playwright have the ability to recreate "the real thing?" While Henry does the heavy thinking, Charlotte gets the best lines: "You don't really think that if Henry caught me out with a lover, he'd sit around being witty," she says, "his sentence structure would go to pot."

When Max arrives on the scene with his real-life wife, Annie (Andrea Osborn), it's clear that Henry's sentence structure isn't the only thing going to pot. He and Annie become lovers surprisingly quickly, ditching their spouses to move in together. At this point, the lines of love, duplicity, loyalty and betrayal seem clearly drawn. But, they get tested further when Annie gets involved in a political cause and convinces Henry to rewrite the mess of a script from an imprisoned anti-war protestor (Stephen Mercantel, in one of the best performances of the evening). However, even her dedication to this cause is self serving because she wants to play the female love interest in the script.

While the title of the play may be THE REAL THING evidence of any real feelings or real life in general is discouragingly scarce in this production of Stoppard's comedy about emotional writer's block. Despite the talented cast, this production is one of those that make you wonder if the play in question is still worth revisiting. Indeed, this production never seems to generate much energy beyond bandied wit. In fact, so little appears to be at stake in Henry and Annie's relationship that you just don't care.

THE REAL THING by Tom Stoppard

Running time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one intermission.

THE REAL THING, produced by Austin Playhouse (6001 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78752.) Sept. 18 - Oct. 11, 2015. Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.

Call the box office at (512) 476 0084 for tickets or go to:

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From This Author Frank Benge