Tom Stoppard has been keeping it real since 1982 when “The Real Thing” premiered in the West End. Now you can catch the realness courtesy of the Boomerang Theatre Company at The Secret Theater in Long Island City.
Stoppard’s mostly autobiographical drama is set in London in the early 80s. Its dramatic milieu is love and politics in the age of Early Thatcher. Its conceptual domain is the cultural upheaval that acted as a hinge between Modernism and Post-modernism. Questions about reality and unreality that were framed as “deconstruction” in the late 60s and 70s are explicitly dramatized against a backdrop of ascendant conservative politics, popular versus high culture, and sexual revolution. It is a realistic (in the literary sense) play of manners where formal, technical dramacraft structures and critiques the philosophical questions raised in the lives of the characters.
That is to say, “The Real Thing” is classic Stoppard: the playwright builds paradoxes through dramatic irony and witty word play out of a highly stylized “reality.” Both elements – the paradox and the reality – comment on each other, but at bottom reality is a room where real, flesh-and-blood human beings feel an existential pain – and that is what makes them real.
As a playwright Henry is in the business of constructing reality out of words on paper. He is conservative in his art and his politics: there is a right way to do things given by “the real world” and there is the wrong way, practiced by fakers, poseurs, and ne’er-do-wells – actors who merely act as if they give a toss. When Brodie, a working class Scot, sets fire to an English war memorial Henry knows right away that this is an act of fakery posing as a political statement. Ditto for Henry’s romantic relationships. Though he is a cracked Christmas ornament of insecurities whose smooth, glassy exterior of wit and self-composure is ready to shatter when it hits the floor of female indifference, Henry insists that his (very macho) role as the playwright puts him above the fakery of the theatrical (feminine) world he inhabits.
The women in the play are far more pragmatic and comfortable with ambiguity than Henry. When necessary they can segregate love and sex into discrete corners of their souls, and when necessary they can be brutally honest. This is a typical Stoppard paradox: the women are consummate actors whose veracity is impossible to determine, and yet they determine Henry’s reality absolutely by causing him existential pain. And in the end Henry makes peace with indeterminacy, allowing that “the real thing” may be an illusion.
The cast, led by Aidan Redmond, does a wonderful job of articulating Stoppard’s drama. Synge Maher as Annie and Valerie Stanford as Charlotte give perfect contrapuntal weight to Mr. Redmond’s excellent Henry. The supporting actors all turn in spotless performances. The sound design by Jay Spriggs catches all the pop culture references baked into the play with wit worthy of the author. Overall it is an entertaining performance worth the trip to Long Island City.
The Real Thing
Through March 25th