The Real Thing is a marital melange wrapped in words at the Aurora

02-6-2017 | KEDAR ADOUR

From left: Annie (Liz Sklar) surprises Charlotte (Carrie Paff), Max (Seann Gallagher) and Henry (Elijah Alexander) with crudité in Aurora Theatre Company’s "The Real Thing."


From left: Annie (Liz Sklar) surprises Charlotte (Carrie Paff), Max (Seann Gallagher) and Henry (Elijah Alexander) with crudité in Aurora Theatre Company’s “The Real Thing.”

THE REAL THING: Comedy by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Timothy Near. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or visit

February 2 – March 5, 2017

The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard is a marital mélange wrapped in words at the Aurora. Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

Tom Stoppard is noted for his exquisite use of language, intricate plots and his social conscience that can and at times be too intellectual.  Language, plot and social conscience take precedence in The Real Thing never straining our intellect creating an entertaining opening night at the intimate Aurora Theatre.  His excessive verbiage is on display, including a monolog in act two that is pure Stoppard egoism. Never fear, Timothy Near’s hyper-physical direction performed with panache by a super cast creates a must see production and might even allow you to forget his Coast of Utopia.

The plot construction use of plays within a play is pure genius where the play acting mimics real life and hence the title. Without preamble the opening scene is a play titled House of Cards written by Henry (Elijah Alexander) and starring his wife Charlotte (Carrie Paff) with best friend Max (Sean Gallagher). It sets the tone of art mimicking real life for the entire evening.

 On the set is a coffee table with an intricate four level house of playing cards that soon collapses foreshadowing what is to come. In House of Cards Charlotte’s character married to Max (Stage name) is having an affair discovered by her husband thus leading to a marital breakup. In real life the same situation is happening to Henry and Charlotte.  Henry is having an affair with another actress Annie who is married to Max (real name) who may be having an affair with the real Charlotte.  Henry leaves Charlotte and eventually marries the divorced Annie.

The major emphasis is the relationship of Henry to Annie who is part of a group attempting to free a Scottish soldier in prison for burning a wreath at the site of a War Memorial. Henry has never met Brodie and questions how Annie met him and what were Brodie’s motivations. The answer to that question is not revealed until the end of the play.

Before that happens the words ‘real’ and ‘reality’ are used often. The play is semi-autobiographical since Stoppard has had three wives and has first-hand experience with marital love and fidelity. The distinction of an affair for fun without emotional entanglements and doing it romantically separates Charlotte’s infidelities, and there are many, from Henry’s viewpoint.  Henry is thrown for a loop when Debbie (Emily Radosevich) their teenage daughter states that in this day of free love fidelity is overrated. At this point Stoppard throws in the rambling monolog.

Henry has been writing TV scripts that mimic life and has read Brodie’s play that is banal giving him the opportunity to be didactic using a cricket bat versus an ordinary bat as a metaphorical distinction between language that ‘travels’ and hack ‘realistic’writing. There are a plethora of zingers to whet your appetite and Stoppard weaves in music that can be the gateway to things past even though those memories may be faulty.

Elijah Alexander who was a mainstay at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival often dominates the stage with a repertoire of voice modulations and facial expressions that create a solid character. Liz Skar and Carrie Paff match Alexander line for line bringing variation to without acting as sounding boards. The remainder of the cast performs admirably and gives ‘reality’ to their roles. It is Timothy Near’s brilliant direction that lifts this well written and thoughtful play to the level of highly recommended. Running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes including the intermission.

CAST: Elijah Alexander as Henry, Liz Sklar as Annie, Carrie Paff as Charlotte, Seann Gallagher as Max, Tommy Gorrebeeck as Billy/Brodie and Emily Radosevich as Debbie.

ARTISTIC STAFF: Nina Ball, Sets; Daniel Banatao, Props; Cliff Caruthers, Sound; Philippa Kelly, Dramaturg; Kurt Landisman, Lights; Maggie Morgan, Costumes; Kathleen J. Parsons, Stage Manager; Lisa Anne Porter, Dialect Coach.

Kedar K. Adour, MD