BWW Review: THE REAL THING at Pinnacle Acting Company
Is the play the thing? Or is enduring love the real thing?
Those topics are foremost in Tom Stoppard's THE REAL THING. The playwright blurs the make-believe of stage scenes with the reality of his characters' lives. Earning an Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love," Stoppard won the 1984 Tony award for Best Play with this play. His three other Tonys are for plays with more serious tones. THE REAL THING is the closest he's come to a writing a rom-com for the stage.
Under Director Mark Fossen's pitch-perfect guidance, Pinnacle Acting Company mounts a sturdy production of THE REAL THING that is highly entertaining, showcasing Stoppard's sparkling wit and barbed observations of fidelity and marriage. Despite the nearly inert involvement of the opening night audience, each actor confidently plays his role, and the wordsmith's complex story comes alive.
The staging is anchored by a splendid tour de force performance by Jared Larkin as the successful but besieged playwright Henry. (Some have broadly suggested that the character is a literary stand-in for Stoppard himself, but there are only autobiographical suggestions.) Along with fully revealing the writing craftsmanship of the play, the joy of this production is Larkin's command of the lead role.
Shadowing life and performance, Henry is married to the actress Charlotte (Brenda Hattingh), who enacts a portion of his play -- about adultery -- in the opening scene opposite Max (Stein Erickson). But Henry is having an affair with a second actress named Annie (Melanie Nelson), who is married to the actor Max, his friend. A misplaced hanky (a nod to "Othello") exposes Henry and Annie's infidelities. 1982 becomes 1984 in the second act, and the two married couples are divorced and recoupled to the others' former partners -- though each is still not fulfilled.
Stoppard's slicing-and-dicing bon mots are delivered with clarity and precision. Hattingh and Nelson are impressive in their roles, especially Nelson with her boy-toy flings, first a political prisoner/incompetent playwright (Steve Allyn) whose writing Henry belittles. There's also a young actor (Alec Kalled), with whom Annie rehearses a scene from "'Tis a Pity She's a Whore" that leads to a dalliance, in another play-within-a-play. Erickson is expert as the not-particularly-bright husband.
With the other characters practically walk-on roles, the actors work to make a similar lasting impression on the audience.
We've seen great work from Fossen with the classics ("The Glass Menagerie," "Death of a Salesman," "A Streetcar Named Desire") at the Grand Theatre. THE REAL THING joins "August: Osage County" (which featured Erickson and Nelson in the cast) on his resume to demonstrate his skill helming comedic dramas.