Tom Stoppard is known for his deeply intellectual and insightful plays such as: Arcadia, Indian Ink, and The Real Thing. Stoppard has a way of forming stories and dialogue that is simultaneously intellectual and extremely gripping and moving. The current Roundabout revival of The Real Thing at the American Airlines Theater. Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Cynthia Nixon lead a truly phenomenal cast in, arguably, Stoppard’s greatest work.
The Real Thing is a story of love, loss, growing up, and intellectual differences. McGregor’s Henry is deeply intellectual and, therefore, sometimes arrogant or haughty. I felt a deep connection to his character because his “superior” feelings on literature and music are some that I, myself, have dealt with in the past. An early discussion is his dilemma of having to choose eight records that he would want with him on a deserted island for an upcoming radio interview, he is a famous playwright. He feels that he should have with him “important” music, i.e. Beethoven or Mozart, but he dislikes that kind of music and prefers what he deems “guilty pleasures” of current pop music like The Everly Brothers or The Chiffons. Henry’s intellectual struggles are a major theme of the play and McGregor shows his prowess in one of the most challenging characters I’ve seen him do.
Gyllenhaal and Nixon were equally adept at handling their characters of Annie and Charlotte, respectfully. Ms. Nixon plays Charlotte, Henry’s soon-to-be ex-wife and mother to their daughter, Debbie, whom she played in the original production in 1984. Charlotte is much more free-spirited than Henry and their scenes are infused with a battle of the sexes that is quite refreshing. Gyllenhaal plays Annie who is Henry’s mistress and soon-to-be second wife. Annie is even more free-spirited than Charlotte and her politically liberal sensibilities link her with a political prisoner, named Brodie, whom she has accepted a play he has written to star in. Henry doesn’t approved of Brodie’s writing style and clashes with Annie as a result.
Henry seems to be at battle with everyone in his life because of his “superior” beliefs. He battles with Charlotte over their daughter and her lifestyle. He battles with Annie over her beliefs and her willingness to follow a lesser playwright. Henry’s struggle is one that is first and foremost human. That is the power of Stoppard’s writing. Tom Stoppard is a master of the human spirit and The Real Thing is a masterful examination of a very human life. Those theatergoers looking for a night in the theatre that will leave you questioning and hopefully discussing. There’s no greater feeling than walking out onto the street and turning to your theatre partner in a deep conversation over what you’ve just seen and you will get that from the Roundabout production of The Real Thing, running now until January 4 ONLY.