With a writer as the central subject, and absolute standards in art and love as a central theme, Tom Stoppards The Real Thing may be the celebrated playwrights most intimately personal play.
But Stoppard being Stoppard, themes are malleable or least complexly layered and require exploration from several points of engagement. Absolute standards apply to art, but also, in this case, to honesty and personal relationships. In director Janis Stevens elegant and precise new production of The Real Thing at Capital Stage, Stoppards interlocking ideas reveal themselves with dense comic lyricism but also raw emotional immediacy.
The play has always been one of Stoppards most commercially and critically successful, winning Londons 1982 Evening Standard Award for best play, the 1984 Tony Award for best play and the 2000 Tony Award for best revival of a play. While some of the playwrights life can be read in the plot, his love of language and the complexity of human behavior trumps any revealing autobiography.
In the dramatic comedy, John Pashas erudite playwright, Henry, coolly treads through the messy passions of his actress wife, Annie (the outstanding Jamie Kale), as she becomes entangled with a political protester and a young actor with whom shes working. Pasha ingenuously carries Henrys brash confidence, subtle vulnerability and eviscerating wit that nominally cast him as a stand-in for Stoppard. He pairs well with Kales more outwardly expressive Annie, who is as much a feeling being as a thinking one.
When we first meet Henry and Annie, though, they are married to other people: Henry to the arch Charlotte ( Megan Smith) and Annie to the fussy Max (Michael Wiles). Smith and Wiles each bring meaningful presence and clever comic timing to the satire and pathos of their essential roles. From a play-within-the-play to a near farcical scene of domestic misunderstandings, Stoppard lays out the dissolution of the main characters current situations and sets up the central dynamic of the play.
Though Henry and Annie were engaged in a lusty adulterous affair, they are also in love. Their relationship not only endures but prospers as they marry and Henry takes on television writing for alimony money while finding himself unable to write a play for Annie about their love.
Throughout her happy marriage to Henry, Annie maintains her interest in the political prisoner Brodie, finally asking Henry to rewrite the anti-intellectuals crude autobiographical play about the events leading up to his incarceration. That Annie believes the play is production-worthy (she wants to star in it) because its about something means nothing to Henry because its so poorly written. He critically explains in a serious monologue his standards of good art and bad art, which have nothing to do with the political commentary or worthiness.
Henrys standards also extend to his emotions and his commitment to Annie, which is tested through her relationships with Brodie (Ryan Snyder) and Billy, a young colleague (Luke Myers). Myers has a sullen electricity about him and the busy Snyder is more definitive than ever; both stand out in their sharp, short scenes.
Elyse Sharp, as Henry and Charlottes daughter, Debbie, also has a strong turn as she dismisses Henrys play House of Cards as simply being about whether the main character is having it off or not, which becomes the critical question in Henrys mind about his wife. Is she having sex with Billy, the young actor in her play?
Perception, reality and just what is the real thing are expertly rendered here as director Stevens polishes this gem by pulling fine performances from her cast, especially the central figures played by Pasha and Kale.
Call The Bees Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.