My review of The Real Thing appears in this week's WE.
THE REAL THING
Playwright Tom Stoppard’s affection for literature is evident in every carefully crafted word he commits to the page, be it the big-screen hit Shakespeare in Love or the kooky Hamlet coda, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. But the Tony and Academy Award winner proves he’s also a sucker for the seduction of his own hand, refusing to bring an editing eye to his bloated —-but, at times, brilliant — dramedy, The Real Thing.
Making liberal use of the play-within-a-play conceit, The Real Thing tackles the tangled and treacherous relationships between writer Henry (Vincent Gale); his tartly funny actress wife Charlotte (Jennifer Clement, Gale’s real-life wife); her co-star Max (Simon Bradbury); and Max’s own actress wife Annie (Jennifer Lines), who moonlights as a social activist fighting for the rights of imprisoned vandal Brodie (Charlie Gallant).
The first act is promising, if vaguely dispiriting, with high-octane verbal pissing matches that illustrate the familiar decay of a past-its-prime marriage (Henry and Charlotte’s hateful banter), the shallow impulsiveness of lust (Henry and Annie’s affair), and the cuckold’s heartbreak (Max discovering the affair).
The second act flashes forward two years, with Henry and Annie now married, and Annie asking her husband to ghostwrite Brodie’s play. Henry understandably balks, sparking dramatic fights between the two that allow Gale and Lines to gnash at each other beautifully.
Stoppard raises some wonderfully complex questions about love, fidelity and faithlessness, and is at times wickedly astute. But the good bits only account for about 70 per cent of the play. Far less interesting is the extended dialogue between Henry and his 17-year-old libertarian, free-love-enthusiast daughter, Debbie (Julie McIsaac), as well as several interactions between Annie and her young fling, Billy (also played by Charlie Gallant), a substitute for her imprisoned bad boy, Brodie. The performances are strong, the set fantastic, but at two and a half hours, there’s far too much of this Real Thing.