The Real Thing
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The Real Thing. American Airlines Theatre (see Broadway). By Tom Stoppard. Directed by Sam Gold. With Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon, Josh Hamilton. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
The Real Thing: In brief
Fidelity, love, fiction, passion, authenticity—these are just a few of the juicy issues running around Tom Stoppard's masterful 1982 marital drama. The second Broadway revival stars Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal as adulterous lovers who find that domesticity brings even more distrust. The always incisive Sam Gold directs.
The Real Thing: Theater review by David Cote
One of the finest speeches in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing (and there are several) concerns the absolute value of good construction, using a cricket bat as an example. Henry (McGregor), an emotionally moderate but aesthetically conservative playwright, explains to Annie (Gyllenhaal) that they’re specially built to give maximum propulsion to the struck ball. “What we’re trying to do,” he sums up, “is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might…travel.” True to form, The Real Thing (1982) is exceedingly well made, a keen and touching study of fidelity, fiction and marital love among theater folk. Its craftsmanship is so solid, in fact, it resists director Sam Gold’s well-meaning attempts to improve it.
Over past seasons, I’ve been pleased to see the Roundabout bringing Gold in to rethink classics such as Look Back in Anger and Picnic. He knows that foreshortened space or foregrounded design can work dramaturgical wonders, blow the dust off. With Stoppard, though, you don’t need to tinker much; it’s all on the page. Gold’s work with the actors is perfectly sound; McGregor and Gyllenhaal are naturally charismatic, intelligent performers who deliver Stoppard’s brainy badinage with nervy aplomb.
It’s just the sing-alongs that got on my nerves. Both acts begin with the ensemble (which includes Cynthia Nixon and Josh Hamilton as Henry's and Annie’s soon-to-be ex-spouses) gathered onstage singing ’60s pop songs—“I’ll Be in Trouble,” “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)”—to guitar accompaniment. Henry is sentimentally fond of these syrupy tunes; he prefers them to Bach and opera. But Gold’s excavation of this element doesn’t add anything, other than directorial static. More eloquent is David Zinn’s unit set, a period-chic modular interior that shifts into various living rooms and other locales, suggesting that the characters are living in (and perhaps through) each other’s lives.
It’s a strong ensemble, featuring a brief but memorable turn by Ronan Raftery as one of Annie’s ardent admirers. McGregor makes his Broadway debut with assurance, charm and sparkle. And those juicy encomiums he delivers on intimacy and literature? He hits them, and how they fly.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE Stoppard’s brainy love story melts our hearts.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote