Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Real Thing (The SOB Review) – McGuire Proscenium Stage, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN

The Real Thing (The SOB Review) – McGuire Proscenium Stage, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN

**** (out of ****)

With some of the sharpest, wittiest writing among plays of the past quarter century, The Real Thing is the real deal. Tom Stoppard’s excellent London-based comedy on the meaning of true love is both eminently smart and deliciously accessible under Joe Dowling’s expert direction, as well as through its superb ensemble, including Jay Goede (Henry), Kathryn Meisle (Annie), Sally Wingert (Charlotte), Lee Mark Nelson (Max), Jonas Goslow (Billy), Elizabeth Stahlmann (Debbie) and Mike Rasmussen (Brodie). Its content is every bit as fresh today as it likely was when it first appeared during its critically-acclaimed Broadway run from 1984 through 1985.

As the play begins, all is not what we think it is, thanks to a clever plot devise employed by Stoddard. Indeed, this decidedly false start is further exaggerated by fabulously faux scenic details by John Arnone in place of authentic items. But when the real story begins, the detail becomes rich with complexity all around as two married couples -- Henry with Charlotte and Annie with Max -- confront infidelity, detached love and jealousy. In this case, Henry and Annie break-up with their spouses to explore their love together, only to have it tested by additional players outside their relationship.

Goede is in top form and exceptionally convincing as Henry, the “old sod” playwright who doesn’t readily show his emotions or affections. Yet when he does -- with the absolutely poetic language Stoppard speaks through Henry -- his dialogue is as romantic as it gets. Goede is breathtaking to watch, and this is the best I’ve seen him since he toured in Cabaret with Norbert Leo Butz back in 2000. Meisle, who previously was recognized with a Tony nomination for her turn in Tartuffe in 2003, is every bit Goede’s equal and displays raw emotions through her luminescent, expressive eyes. It’s not hard to grasp why so many men are smitten with her Annie.

Nelson and Wingert are spot-on wonderful, both as a perceived couple in the first scene, as well as the jilted spouses throughout the rest of the play. Stahlmann is a delight as Henry and Charlotte’s daughter Debbie, who tells it like it is and presents Henry with a paradigm shift on his thinking. Goslow as Annie’s crush-cum-suitor is both silly and sweet, while Rasmussen as the stray soldier Brodie blends just the right mix of anger with ignorance to make his plight understandable.

As the first regular production in the Guthrie Theater’s McGuire Proscenium Stage, The Real Thing is a joy to behold and is a great harbinger of things to come. This production runs through September 24.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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At 01 September, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in the house for this show on Tuesday, August 29 - and for the most part, I agree with you. It was a fantastic production (I'm also a sucker for Stoppard, though) with great lighting. I could not, however, get myself to connect with Stahlmann's portrayal of felt a bit flat and uninspired. Not bad, just unengaging.

Overall, I'm thrilled to see Stoppard on stage, and I got a kick out of his reference to "carnal embrace"... he uses that in my all-time-favorite play, Arcadia, and it's hilarious.

At 01 September, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for the great comments Leigha -- you were there for the same performance as I.

I found myself pretty intoxicated by Stoddard's brilliant writing and hope to see both his celebrated trilogy (Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage) finally making its way to Broadway starting this fall, as well as Rock And Roll that's currently in London.


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