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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'The Real Thing'

21 January 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Pasadena Playhouse

Through Feb. 22

British playwright Tom Stoppard has developed a sort of brilliant and brainy drawing-room comedy-drama that is his unmistakable signature. From the enigmatic "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" in 1967 to his latest, "The Invention of Love" (playing at London's National Theatre), Stoppard has managed to blend an inordinate amount of research, dazzling language and fascinating ideas. Along the way, he's managed to win a couple Tonys and New York Drama Critics Awards.

All this is vital preamble to Stoppard's "The Real Thing" (written in 1982). At best, it's solid stuff -- still a far cry from a Stoppard production at its best. Somehow, director Sheldon Epps has let the production flatten out and become much too academic and preachy.

Stoppard is never meant to be preachy. He's clever, biting, witty, passionate, ironic, enigmatic and full of incredible language and questions about the nature of writing (Stoppard is one of theater's great wordsmiths in the tradition of Shakespeare) and tenuous and ever-changing human relationships. With Stoppard, you really have to lean in, listen and ultimately work.

When the show was first staged more than a decade ago, it was done swiftly with a series of shifting panels, which blended past and present into a continuum -- part of Stoppard's conceit. With the revolving set of scenic designer James Leonard Joy and the lighting of Michael Gilliam, "The Real Thing" seems slower and set in an onstage world of reality instead of Stoppard's world of poetic leaps and bounds, where anything goes.

"The Real Thing" centers on playwright Henry (the apt Jeff Allin) and his search for the core of relationships, especially with his former actress-wife Charlotte (the solid Colette Kilroy), his current actress-wife Annie (the lovely Christina Haag) and teenage daughter Debbie (Annie Meisels, who is quite good). Scott Ferrara, David Purdham and David Mann add able support.

Against this backdrop of backstage relationships is the onstage business of Henry's plays, in which actors appear to act out their backstage relationship. As such, we get to see it both ways, once as theater and once as life, hence "the real thing." Soon the fact and the fiction blend, and we are left with the task of sorting things out for ourselves. It's not a simple task but well worth the effort.


Pasadena Playhouse

Director: Sheldon Epps

Playwright: Tom Stoppard

Scenic design: James Leonard Joy

Lighting design: Michael Gilliam

Costume design: Marianna Elliott

Sound design: Jeff Ladman


Henry: Jeff Allin

Billy: Scott Ferrara

Annie: Christina Haag

Charlotte: Colette Kilroy

Brodie: David Mann

Debbie: Annie Meisels

Max: David Purdham


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