BWW Reviews: British Wit Abound in Bad Habit Productions' THE REAL THING

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Walking into Deane Hall, one of the smaller and more challenging spaces in the Calderwood Pavillion, I tend to find myself pleasantly surprised by the versatility of the room. I have seen it set up in a full range of constructs, from a traditional proscenium all the way to an immersive in-the-round show with audience seated right up alongside the actors. Bad Habit's production of The Real Thing, a dry British comedy by Tom Stoppard, utilized the space in yet another inventive way. Audience members were set up facing one another, with all of the action taking place in a center aisle, which not only made for a more up-close and personal experience, but allowed the audience to watch various emotions pass along the faces of those sitting opposite. For such a literary and romance based discussion of a play, challenging the audience at every turn, this was an exciting addition.

The play itself, directed by A. Nora Long, concerns several academics and their various opinions on love and commitment. It is deeply literary, filled with sarcastic British humor, lengthy debates about the meaning of devotion, and a beautiful consideration of the power of words. The piece is directed well, with likable characters who very clearly mature before us, a comedic flair even when dealing with dark topics, and graceful maneuverings of the stage. That being said, I don't think I'm much of a Stoppard fan, I'm sad to say. I found there to be a confusing twist of protagonists before finally settling in on the main plot and a lovely build to a rather dissatisfying ending, but I'd like to believe that says more about my taste than about the production. In general, I am a fan of Long's work and think she did a fantastic job of making a fairly dated show seem relevant and applicable.

The cast did a fine job of tackling this highly British show, which is no small feat, both because of the challenge that comes with the wit and dryness of British humor and because of the accent work. I get nervous whenever I read that a play is set in the United Kingdom as I'm pretty critical when it comes to accents, and that criticism applies tenfold with the accent in question is British. But this cast did fairly well with the dialect, particularly the ladies. I was quite impressed with the main pair, Bob Mussett and Courtland Jones. Mussett played Henry, a frustrated, but romantic playwright who struggles with what constitutes as real art and, later, what constitutes as real love. Mussett presented the role with a lovely twinkle in his eye, coming across almost as an academic and studious Hugh Grant type. Jones, on the other hand, played his lover and then wife with a blazing fire, rather than a twinkle. She spend most of her time rolling her eyes, but somehow managed to remain incredibly likable, even through arguments and infidelity. The pair, and their tumultuous yet endearing relationship, were a joy to watch.

As stated previously, I was impressed with the creative use of the room. Not only did Scenic Designer Shelley Barish have to deal with a less than ideal space, but also had to attack a piece with many different, realistic locations. She chose to represent these locations with various hanging light fixtures and a multi-piece couch, which was positioned in new ways whenever a location was introduced. I thought it worked well, though it gave the stage hand (who moved around the whole set between each scene) quite a workout. The man in question was Assistant Stage Manager Kevin Deane Parker, whose subtle, wordless interactions with the play and the actors actually made for some of the best humor in the piece. I also want to point out the brilliance of the sound design, by Chris Larson, which was varying and specific (there was a huge variety of music) and cued brilliantly by Stage Manager Cat Meilus. It was a homey, intimate show and the visuals painted that picture well.

Regardless of the fact that I am not one for Stoddard, I did enjoy this production. There were some really beautiful and honest moments that everyone can identify with, be it Henry apologizing without knowing why or the amount of love that can be present even throughout a passionate and anger-fueled argument. There was humor and kindness and some really interesting debates, not to mention British accents, so really for what more can you ask?

Directed by A. Nora Long; Stage Managed by Cat Meilus; Costume Design by Bridgette Hayes; Dialect Coaching by Crystal Lisbon; Lighting Design by Emily McCourt; Properties Design by Helena Mestenhauser; Scenic Design by Shelley Barish; Sound Design by Chris Larson.

Featuring William Bowry, Shanae Burch, Courtland Jones, R. Nelson Lacey, Gillian Mackay-Smoth, and Bob Mussett.

The Real Thing, presented by Bad Habit Productions, runs through November 23 at the Calderwood Pavillion at the Boston Center for the Arts. For more information, visit

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From This Author Alex Lonati

Alex Lonati holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies and Journalism from Emerson College, where she spent four years hosting Standing Room Only, the (read more...)