Art imitates life. Life imitates art. Often times -for the life of a playwright- the lines are so blurred that it’s almost impossible to distinguish realism from hyper-realism or acting from genuine feeling and emotion. When fact and fiction can no longer be untangled it isn’t always easy to recognize if the words you’re hearing are being spoken from the heart or simply being recreated from a scene plucked from the past. Somewhere amid all this, one would hope to find The Real Thing.
Written by Tom Stoppard and first performed in 1982 The Real Thing hardly shows signs of being a 30 year old play; in fact Boomerang Theatre Company’s production directed by Cailin Heffernan now playing at The Secret Theater in Long Island City is vibrant, cunning, engaging and smart. It brims over with the kind of energy that makes live, independent theatre so absolutely vital and important, and throughout the 2 hour show everything comes together to make what amounts to a gift to the audience.
The play centers around two British couples who are bound by marriage but straining against those binds. Who exactly is married to whom isn’t directly obvious at first as Stoppard creates a slight of hand by giving us a play within a play as the first scene. It’s enjoyable and weighty with plummy words and an idiosyncratic male lead, but it does teeter dangerously close to having the ability to turn grating should it go on for too long. No sooner does the needle veer into the red does the scene end and the next scene reveals (slowly at first, which is the charm of it) that what was just witnessed was a play written by Henry (Aidan Redmond), one which is then poked at by his wife Charlotte (Valerie Stanford) and Max (David Nelson) who only moments before played husband and wife.
Max’s wife Annie (Synge Maher) soon arrives to round out the foursome and as the two couples chatter and regroup it becomes clear that Annie and Henry have been having a searing love affair, one which Annie insists they make public so that they can move on and be together.
What ensues over the next hours is a clever weaving of pure human need at it’s basest. Love rises and falls, and with it – trust. Marriages unform and reform, strong, then weak as passion is no longer enough to keep nagging thoughts away. And, as promised, the first scene is played over and over again in various forms as each character finds themselves imitating the art that was either a foreshadowing or an homage to these lives.
Through it all, Stoppard finds ways to display wonderful moments of thoughtfulness that come across as neither pedantic nor preachy, simply as the kinds of conversations people have when they are at the crossroads – not once but several times over.
Cailin Heffernan’s direction is marvelous; so many of the defining traits of the main characters are unpleasant, and their motives are selfish, however Heffernan summons a duality in each character so that they are always understandable, always relatable – if not in deed then at least in motive.
The entire cast is amazing. Aidan Redmond’s Henry is absolutely fantastic. Here is a man who struggles with his inward demons, often casts them off onto others, and yet still has the ability to take a moment and guide his daughter through the minefields of early adulthood. Redmond plays Henry with the kind of sneer that makes you want to leave your phone number tucked into his back pocket – even as you walk away muttering about how conceited he is. Synge Maher as Annie and Valerie Stanford as Charlotte play their parts perfectly – each wed to him and wife to him — differently because they themselves are as different as can be. Yet each the perfect balance to Redmond and just what he needs at a particular moment of his life.
Special mention goes to Zach Calhoon who plays Billy – he plays the young man vying for Annie’s affections with all the acting back-flips that any actor would use when trying to impress his co-star; and while the part is meant to be showy Calhoon pulls it off without overdoing it. He is a joy to watch.
With just a few shows left, The Real Thing should not be missed. Playing at The Secret Theater, don’t let this show be a secret too long.
Boomerang Theatre Company presents
THE REAL THING
by Tom Stoppard; directed by Cailin Heffernan
The Secret Theatre
4402 23rd Street
Long Island City, NY 11101