Corrections or additions?
Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 21, 2000. All rights reserved.
On Broadway: `The Real Thing’
I saw Tom Stoppard’s "The Real Thing," under
the direction of Mike Nichols, twice on Broadway in 1984: The first
time with a cast that included Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Christine
Baranski, Kenneth Walsh, and Peter Gallagher, and later that season
with John Vickery, Caroline Lagerfelt, Simon Jones, and Anthony Fusco.
For reasons unclear, the memory of both is sufficiently gone for me
to approach the striking and spare Donmar Warehouse production as
if it were totally new. There is something to be said for a plot so
cleverly contrived and convoluted that it has the ability to unravel
into the ether of time and forgetfulness. Recently the recipient of
Tony awards for its two stars Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle, "The
Real Thing" is, perhaps as a result of my own maturation, a better
play than I first believed it to be.
Henry, the playwright hero of "The Real Thing," is a successful
writer of romantic comedies. His own personal real life escapades
are alluded to in a scene from one of his frothy comedies that serves
as a prologue to the play proper. Stoppard, the playwright, uses this
"play before the play" device to parallel both his protagonist’s
trap in creating a romantic comedy that his audience might find amusing,
as well as the necessity of real people to embroider life, i.e. "The
Real Thing," with as much theatricality and complexity as their
own credibility can muster.
Stoppard’s counterpoint illusion of theatrical conceits vs. life’s
more hard-edged and dangerous struggles with fidelity and truth has
a lot going for it. The dialogue, both in the hilariously superficial
prologue and the body of the play, is Stoppard ("Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern are Dead," "Travesties," "Arcadia")
at his most dazzling. Words, epithets, and metaphors hurtle, cascade,
and bombard us into distraction. Under David Leveaux’s brisk direction,
an extraordinary cast gives a wealth of multi-leveled performances.
Except for watching the actors become furniture movers to give designer
Vicki Mortimer’s settings their mobility, I enjoyed this intellectually
mobile play more than ever.
In the prologue, a scene from Henry’s play, "House of Cards,"
a wife is discovered to be unfaithful by a husband who finds her passport
has been left at home when she supposedly went off to Switzerland.
The unseen lover, presumably the author, is immediately encountered
in Scene II married to the cheating actress in his play. Only this
time Henry (played with irrepressibly arrogant charm by Dillane) is
having a tryst with the cuckolded actor-husband’s (of Scene I) wife,
Annie (Ehle). Neither Henry’s wife, Charlotte (Sarah Woodward), nor
Annie’ husband Max (Nigel Lindsay) is as immediately aware of their
spouses’ affair as they are of Annie’s current secondary interest
in rescuing a political activist from prison. Amidst niceties and
crudities, the affair is eventually exposed and four lives are rearranged.
Now married, Henry, a strict constructionist when it comes to marriage,
love, and use of words, and Annie, a free-spirited liberal whose marital
commitments need constant reinforcing, become embroiled in another
escapade. Annie has recruited Henry to change and polish her anarchist
friend Brodie’s (Joshua Henderson) awful play. While performing it
she has a dalliance with the young leading man (Oscar Pearce). The
emotional traumas and unsettling of their relationship force them
into redefining their love as "the real thing." If Stoppard’s
exploration of fictional stage life, theatricalized real life, and
love is intentionally dense, it is also emphatically glib. While all
the actors wend their way through the author’s brittle and erudite
ideas about commitment, conscience, and infidelity, Ehle (the daughter
of actress Rosemary Harris) brings to the play a spunk and radiance
that lifts the play’s world weary, if demonstrably witty, resonance.
— Simon Saltzman
New York, 800-432-7250. $30 to $70.
A lot of press has been focused on Patrick Stewart, star of "The
Ride Down Mount Morgan," and his now infamous curtain speech in
which he accused the producers of not properly supporting and promoting
the Arthur Miller play. Stewart has been officially reprimanded for
what the producers felt was unwarranted criticism; he was also required
to make a formal apology to the producers by an Actors Equity advisory
board. Interestingly, the dramatic, professional, and personal implications
of this action — as well as how it impacts on the actor’s career
— unwittingly correspond with the action and consequences of the
play’s central character.
"The Ride Down Mount Morgan," which had its premiere in London
in 1991, its American debut in 1996 at the Williamstown Festival,
and opened at the Public Theater in 1998 to decidedly mixed reviews,
has now taken the ride up to Broadway. The play continues to reverberate
as one man’s long-winded defense of his outrageously selfish and downright
Miller takes us back to salesman territory with the play’s protagonist
Lyman Felt, a hugely successful insurance salesman. Lyman is so successful
that he can justify, at least to himself, if not to us, being married
to two women, and having two different families to love and support,
one in the city, the other in the country. Whereas that other salesman
Willy Loman’s (in "Death of a Salesman") life disintegrates
when he becomes dispensable by the firm that he has worked for all
his life, Lyman’s life, empowered by personal success, is shown crumbling
under the weight of his super ego and the inevitable response of the
wives when they discover his deception. This, despite his proclaimed
devotion to each family. In so much as Lyman has recklessly and heedlessly
manipulated those he presumes to love while gratifying himself with
the sexual diversity that he craves, gives his bid for bigamy and
split familial responsibilities its provocative twists.
Neither the wives nor the children know of the existence of the other
until Lyman ends up in a hospital bed after he totals his Porsche
on the icy side of Mount Morgan. While in a semi-conscious state,
Lyman is told by his nurse (Oni Faida Lampley) that his wife has been
told of the accident. In his stupor, Lyman begins to imagine the confrontation
between Theo (Francis Conroy), his WASP Manhattan wife, and Leah (Katy
Selverstone), his younger, Jewish wife from Upstate New York. His
nightmare becomes real, when Theo arrives with their teenage daughter
(Shannon Burkett) to find Leah there in equal disbelief. Leah has
left their young son Ben at home.
Not only is Lyman, who is barely conscious, suddenly the object of
his wives’ and his daughter’s vehement outrage and hurt, but he is
hounded by the press and the voiced dismay of his lawyer (John C.
Vennema). As Lyman responds to the wives, as they each stake out a
blistering offense to his blithering defense, the play revisits the
past and the critical, life-altering moments that have brought him
to this point of no return.
Although Miller’s premise is interesting to the point of redundancy,
there is something very unsettling and unnerving about the play and
its protagonist. Perhaps it is partly the fault of designer John Arnone’s
dream-like — make that nightmarish — setting, that includes
some impressively hallucinatory effects, as well as director David
Esbjornson’s overtly competitive and gimmicky staging of the play
that is distancing and distracting. The bellowing protestations and
justifying excuses and explanations of a man convinced that his actions
have not actually harmed anyone might have had more potency in a less
surreal frame. Of this I’m not absolutely sure. But listening to Stewart
somewhat childishly ranting from his hospital bed (that has shown
a propensity to fly), as his past and present become a collage of
collective disingenuous charms and insecurities. That we are meant
to understand, if not empathize with, the ultimate revelation (that
I will not disclose) offers little in the way of compensation for
the hours of one man’s whining as others whittle away at his flaws.
Miller’s theme, which deals with the justification of a moral double-standard,
and the integrity of Lyman’s self-deluding grasp at immortality through
his life with two families, has sparks of psychological profundity.
But Stewart’s performance, notwithstanding his innate attractiveness,
is mainly affected rather than affecting, abrasive in tone and temperament,
and without the sensuality that made his Prospero in "The Tempest"
so uniquely charismatic and dynamic. In support, Tony-nominated Conroy
gets the closest to genuine emotions in the role of Theo, whose composure
under stress is both funny and poignant. Selverstone, as Leah, and
Burkett, as the daughter, vent their anger and outrage without making
us believe in them for a second. For that matter, it’s the not believing
in any of it that makes "The Ride Down Mount Morgan" such
an uncomfortable ride. HH
— Simon Saltzman
49 Street, New York, 800-432-7250. $55 & $65.
can be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,
half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open
daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday
matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade
Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday
from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are sold at this location
on the day prior to performance. Cash or travelers’ checks only; no
credit cards. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.