Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing is
Also see Richard's review of Peter Pan
American Conservatory Theatre is currently presenting British playwright Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing with a superb cast headed by Marco Barricelli and René Augesen (pictured at right). This is probably one of the writer's richest and cleverest plays. The New York Times called it "the most bracing play anyone has written about love and marriage in years," when it was first presented in America in 1984. It remains the same today. This elegant production plays through November 21 at the Geary Theatre in San Francisco.
My first exposure to this stimulating play was in 1982 when I saw Felicity Kendal and Roger Rees playing the leading roles of Annie and Henry. Stoppard wrote the play to show the critics at the time that he could write a play about real life, even the lives of actors. He could show life imitating art and art imitating life. I saw the American premiere production with Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons in 1984, which walked off with the Tony Award for Best Play. There was a splendid revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in June 2000 in which Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle headed an all British cast.
The Real Thing is one of the playwright's best written works. It is as fresh now as it was when first presented in 1982. The language is as brittle as a Noel Coward play, with much of Stoppard's philosophy thrown into the mix. It's sophisticated, urbane and very droll. This is a love story and an exploration of the artistic process in the theatre world. There is a constant struggle of intellect and emotion for most of the characters.
Henry (Marco Barricelli) is a successful playwright who is married to Charlotte (Diana LaMar), a leading actress in his play called House of Cards. The opening of Stoppard's comedy, setting the tone of the production, is a scene of the play that Henry has written. In the scene, a jealous husband, played by Max (Stephen Caffrey) is interrogating his wife, played by Annie (René Augesen), about her infidelity. There is even a little theatrical artifice about a house of cards that Max is building on a table when the wife enters.
Following this opening scene, the real thing occurs, since Henry and Annie (who is Max's real wife) are having a hot and heavy love affair. Henry leaves his wife Charlotte with no regrets. He is superior in the knowledge of love. He pontificates "the insularity of passion" and is so smug that he takes love for granted. As far as he is concerned, love and passion are just words with no meaning. However, as the play progresses and Charlotte finds a new and very young actor, Henry's world and ego begin to shatter. His disillusionment is beautifully accomplished by Marco Barricelli. All comes to full circle in the final confrontation between Henry and Annie, which is superbly played by Barricelli and Augesen.
Marco Barricelli is wonderful with the words of the famous British playwright. He gives a deeply moving performance as he descends into the sadder part of the play. His ponderings on the aches and bliss of love and writing are galvanizing. René Augesen gives a clever performance as Charlotte. She shines in a finely shaded role as she strays from her husband to a younger, good looking actor. She portrays a woman who can accept love from various persons strictly "out of need." She plays the role brilliantly.
The supporting cast is excellent, with each players having one scene in which to shine. Andy Butterfield as the younger actor, gives a lively performance, and he is especially good when speaking the lines of the classic 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore. Stephen Caffrey is hard hitting and comical as Max the ex-husband of Annie. He is particularly good in the play-within-a-play at the opening of the production. Diana LaMar is very appealing as Henry's first wife Charlotte. Allison Jean White is excellent as the cynical, grungy, new wave daughter of Henry and Charlotte. Clayton B. Hodges as the radical Brodie makes a brief but energetic appearance near the end of the play.
Carey Perloff's direction is sparkling; she knows how to helm a top notch Stoppard work, giving emphasis to the emotional authenticity of the play.
The Real Thing plays through November 21 at the Geary Theatre, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
The ACT perennial favorite A Christmas Carol comes back to the Geary during the festive season.