Tom Stoppard takes a lot of flak among some theater critics for having all of the words and none of the heart. That said, he also writes dialogue that makes theater studies majors want to kill themselves, gets Tony Awards showered upon him, and last year made it into Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people … so I don’t feel so bad for him. Especially not after seeing “The Real Thing” (directed by Gary Jaffe ’10), in which an expert cast delivers Stoppard’s stunning response to early allegations of lack of feeling in two and a half hours of soul-searching, delivered in his tight, mind-blowingly clever, smarter-than-you-can-even-follow way.
I feel I can identify with Stoppard and his lead character Henry, played by Lee Seymour ’09, mostly because I, too, am an apparently witty, superior, incredibly good-looking (actually that’s just me and Lee — sorry, Tom) genius who is in reality a lonely romantic with a tendency to fall wildly and uncompromisingly in love. That’s why I wanted to review the show.
Now I’m spending this entire review talking about myself, my life and my “work,” which incidentally is pretty much what my boy Tom is up to in his play. One could say that makes him a snob, which is what jealous people usually say when they’re insulting Stoppard, or his character Henry, or me. What redeems the playwright is his willingness to struggle — all of his characters, especially Henry, are digging and digging for some fundamental truth, something indescribable and intangible. They know it is beyond words, but they continue to try to verbalize their feelings and the world around them — it’s the only way they know how.
The play tells the story of the love affair of Henry, a playwright, and Annie (Lian Walden ’09), his actor’s wife, who both leave their respective partners and confront the challenges of their relationship and what it means to love. The show is intimate and intense — Stoppard’s exquisite narration, the cast’s raw energy and emotion and the production’s surround seating and sound make the audience feel right up close to something naked and terrifying and true. Sort of like psycho-emotional hard-core pornography. Live.
Stoppard’s script is brought to life by a phenomenal cast who keep the energy and emotion up through the demanding show. Seymour shines as Henry and delivers a barrage of second act monologues with a broad range of emotions and styles, allowing us to revel in and react to the character’s epiphanies and transformations. The close seating all around the stage affords the audience the pleasure of catching the actors’ extra little movements and reactions. Examining a relatively bare stage and small cast for over two hours could be incredibly tedious — luckily, this show only grows more intriguing.
Henry may be mostly a snob, but he does have one crucial weakness: an embarrassing love of terrible pop music. Another thing we have in common. The show’s soundtrack is effective and ironic, and one of the most poignant moments comes when the wordy playwright, alone and depressed, turns on something unforgivably catchy and utters the simple word “please” over and over. For Henry, and for Stoppard, the play’s revelation seems to be that there are some things beyond the finesses of even the most precise words and artfully constructed sentences. Which makes this whole review a little pointless, maybe. So instead of rambling on for another few hundred words, let me keep it simple: (Cue the Backstreet Boys) I LIKE THIS SHOW. GO.
“The Real Thing” plays in the Whitney Theater tonight at 8p.m. and tomorrow at 4p.m. and 8p.m.