THE REAL THING is considered by many to be Tom Stoppard's best play. In it he takes a serious look at love. A story of marriage, infidelity and the messy nature of adult relationships, THE REAL THING gives us characters in search of what is real in love, art and life. Henry, a playwright who focuses his work on love and relationships, is accused by his wife of using clever speech to avoid examining his deeper emotions. However as he says in the play, ". . . (love). . . as knowledge . . . knowing . . . being known . . . and when it's gone everything is pain. No commitments only bargains. The trouble is I don't really believe it. I'd rather be an idiot. It's a kind of idiocy I like. Everything should be romantic."
THE REAL THING is full of Stoppard's linguistic complexity and brilliant word play. In the midst of a tirade about the Japanese Henry asserts that, "The days of the digitals are numbered." There's a complaint about his "bloody kitchen - all champagne and no paper towels." And finally, "There is something scary about stupidity made coherent." Still, behind the intellectual high jinx we can see Stoppard's philosophical concern with the nature of love.
Douglas Paraschuk has created an elegant and versatile set of two interchangeable living rooms. When the panels and book cases revolve, the differences in the decor and the book case contents help delineate the characters. Leigh Ann Vardy's lighting, especially the side lights in the panels, is very effective. Peter McBoyle's sound design is great fun. The music connects us to both the scenes and the characters.
The cast is strong and adept at handling the verbal acrobatics. As Henry, perhaps Stoppard's most autobiographical character, Albert Schultz shines. He's wonderful in the final scene on the telephone. Kristina Nicoll as Charlotte, Henry's actress wife and Megan Follows as Annie, his second actress wife, are both excellent. However Miss Follows' extreme reaction with a bowl of vegetable dip seems to come out of nowhere.
As Billy, Annie's young co-star, Matthew Edison is appealing and entertaining. Krystin Pellerin makes Debbie, Henry's daughter, a three-dimensional character, avoiding a one-note teen rebel interpretation. As Max, a fellow actor, C. David Johnson is just fine and Jeff Lillico's Brodie, an unrepentant ex-con, is enjoyably obnoxious and smarmy.
Director Diana Leblanc, whose work I have previously admired, has put together a solid production. She and her cast have maintained the humor and complexity of Stoppard's language as well as exploring the moral complexity of the characters.
Stoppard's assessment of his work, as he told Newsweek, is that he embraces each of his many sides. This production displays a number of those sides to good advantage.
On a scale of one to five the NAC/Soulpepper Theatre co-production of THE REAL THING gets four and a half Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.