A playwright colleague of mine has characterized The Real Thing as a smug play, and I suppose one might see it as that; Tom Stoppard’s light drama, about the relationship between a highly intellectual playwright (Ewan McGregor) and an actress who eschews intellectual constraints on her emotional responses (Maggie Gyllenhaal), makes some very fancy arguments about the nature of love, the precision of words, impulse vs. consideration, the consideration of impulse and etc. And there are times when you can feel the effort of the thesis, literally feel the machines gears meshing as Mr. Stoppard delivers his version of a romantic play.
But the number of these moments, and the play’s potential glibness, are severely reduced if you can give the play its proper texturing. And for the most part, in the current Roundabout Theatre revival (the show’s third Broadway appearance, including its debut in 1984), director Sam Gold has missed it. He does have some understanding of its tone—but it’s a glib understanding. His mostly-American performers (also including Cynthia Nixon, [who created the role of the playwright’s teenage daughter in the original] and Josh Hamilton) get their British accents mostly-right, and deliver the dialogue at the proper clip and usually with the right inflection; but you feel the effort of getting there, as if watching an exercise in style dexterity that hasn’t quite been mastered; subsequently, with the exception of isolated moments and short passages, we never get the feeling that the characters have an existence offstage, that their world has continued between scenes, that they bring history with them. This renders all the rhythm and style somewhat bloodless and at times monotonous—by which I don’t mean dull so much as I mean demonstrating, quite literally, a mono tone.
If there’s revelation to this production at all, it’s that facile verbal style need not be achieved at the cost of sincerity.
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