Magazine article Variety

Austere Play Doesn't Feel Very 'Real'

Magazine article Variety

Austere Play Doesn't Feel Very 'Real'

Article excerpt

Roundabout rounded up name players for this revival of "The Real Thing," Tom Stoppard's meditation on the vagaries of love and the elusive nature of reality. Ewan McGregor makes an impressive Broadway debut as a British playwright whose new play reflects his own rocky relationship with his cool and distant wife (Cynthia Nixon) as well as his affair with the vivacious spouse (a radiant Maggie Gyllenhaal) of the star of his play. Stoppard likes to tease and torment an audience, but helmer Sam Gold's mannered production is so steeped in artifice, it's almost antagonistic to the text.

Jeremy Irons, playing opposite Glenn Close in Mike Nichols' memorable 1984 production of Stoppard's dissection of modern marriage, needed no lessons in the mysteries of British humor. The disdainful smirk, the articulate thrust, the venomous retort - he's just got it. The largely American cast performing here under the helming of Gold ("The Realistic Joneses") seems overwhelmed by the scribe's blithely brittle humor. Missing the subtlety of the satire, they seem to think this cutting comedy of manners is better played as earnest drama - except for those jarring musical interludes when everyone drops out of character and sits around singing those 1950s and '60s pop songs of which Stoppard is notoriously fond.

Gold's austere production, which is sort of expressionistic and sort of not, proves alienating at first sight. There's something very cold and unforgiving about David Zinn's set - a wall of dead-white squares that periodically opens up to rooms filled with Danish modern furniture. Only the walls of books tell us that living, thinking people inhabit these rooms.

The initial chill extends to the first scene, a showdown between an aggrieved husband named Max and his adulterous wife, Charlotte, desultorily played by Josh Hamilton and a terribly miscast Nixon. …

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