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The Real Thing at Writers’ Theatre | Theater review

A writer searches for the real in Tom Stoppard’s 1982 work, given a raw and honest revival at Writers’.

Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Carrie Coon with Sean Fortunato in The Real Thing at Writers' Theatre

A writer dedicated to conveying the intricacies of human behavior, Henry (Sean Fortunato) adores pop music for the straightforward honesty he’s unable to replicate in his own art. The struggle between emotion and intellect is a constant in Tom Stoppard’s work, and Michael Halberstam’s production of 1982’s The Real Thing strikes a balance that fully communicates the powerful insight of Stoppard’s multifaceted script.

When Henry leaves his wife for the manipulative but passionate Annie (Carrie Coon), reality begins to reflect art as elements of Henry’s writing work their way into his personal life. Stoppard uses Henry, who’s obsessed with finding the real in both writing and romance, as a springboard for discussion on both topics. Does putting words on a page with purpose but no talent make someone a writer? If a relationship begins with betrayal and deception, can it be the real thing? Stoppard asks the questions, then lets the audience create the answers.

Coon’s confident, sly Annie is a character in transition. Each affair is an opportunity to find out what she truly wants, and the actor’s ability to convey that uncertainty brings the character to a sympathetic place. The versatility and depth of Writers’ cast prevent Stoppard’s heavily referential dialogue from becoming cold and detached; the ease with which the ensemble accesses the raw emotion beneath the cerebral language is a testament to Halberstam’s strong direction.

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