Not enough real heart in revival of ‘The Real Thing’



In Tom Stoppard’s semi-autobiographical play “The Real Thing,” a writer struggles to break the wall of glib wordplay he has erected around his heart and find real connection with the woman he loves.

“The Real Thing” opens with a husband (Seann Gallagher) confronting his wife (Carrie Paff) about her adultery. It is later revealed that the opening was a play within the play, a scene from a production of “House of Cards” (no relation to the Netflix production; Stoppard wrote this in 1982), written by Henry (Elijah Alexander), the cerebral, charmingly disheveled playwright at the center of the play. The twist purposely blurs fiction and reality, a thin line that will be crossed as the show goes on.

In the reality of “The Real Thing,” Henry is married to actress Charlotte (Carrie Paff) but sleeping with another actress and activist Annie (Liz Sklar), who is married to actor Max (Seann Gallagher.) Like his onstage counterpart Henry, Stoppard had a reputation for being more concerned with language than feeling. He also had an affair with an actress, for whom he left his second wife. For Henry, life imitates art as his relationship with Annie begins to mirror his own play in alarming ways. For Stoppard, this play is a fastidious imitation of his own life.

The personal nature of the material and the script’s rom-com touch implies that “The Real Thing” may find the passionate core beneath the high-minded witticisms, but this Aurora Theatre Company production never quite frees Henry from his cocoon of emotional detachment.

Part of this is because the stakes never seem to be terribly high when marriages are broken in “The Real Thing.” The actors give the roles their all, but the relentless cleverness of the script makes the play impenetrable to genuine feeling. Henry dumps Charlotte for Annie with alarming ease. Annie’s lack of sympathy for her heartbroken ex, Max, is more complex and interesting, an almost liberatory selfishness, but the effect is still a lack of investment in the affairs of this romantic quadrilateral.