You can count on Bad Habit Productions for a sterling production just about every time out. And, it seems, every time out with a Stoppard play is sheer magic. (They created a crystal clear ARCADIA season before last, not an easy accomplishment.) Their current production of THE REAL THING is the real McCoy. Director A. Nora Long even found ways to tweak the scene changes for extra laughs. Hurry, though, it ends Nov. 23rd)
Stoppard cuts pretty close to the bone with THE REAL THING. The central character is a British playwright just like him with ex-wives and children to support—and Stoppard, like the fictional writer, occasionally leaves the rarified air of the theater to write for the movies, not really a hardship one might argue, since he won an Oscar and a permanent place in Academy lore for his droll acceptance speech. (Roberto Benini had just shocked the well heeled attendees by crawling on the backs of their chairs to get to the stage but Stoppard one-upped him by announcing in a slow monotone that “Inside, I’m Roberto Benini.”)
Instead of his usual propensity for brainy philosophical and architectural allusions (to Wittgenstein or Lancelot “Capability” Brown), Stoppard addresses the vagaries of being in love in THE REAL THING. The allusions are still there but this time, the references come from comic or tragic romantic sources like Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell or Noel Coward’s Amanda… and I mustn’t forget that telltale Shakespearean handkerchief he works in to the mix.
Stoppard is fascinated by what seems real and what is real (the first scene being a trick) but of course, none of it is because this is only a play—but we happily suspend our disbelief for the delicious ride and the flashy attempt to inspect true love in the midst of messy affairs and broken hearts.
Stoppard’s stand-in, Henry, in the Bad Habit production is portrayed by Bob Mussett, who gives a knockout performance right from the get-go but especially at the play’s emotional end (something the British actors I’ve seen in the role haven’t been able to pull off). Mussett is glib, he’s charming, he’s infuriating and in Nora A. Long’s exceptional production, he’s vulnerable.
R. Nelson Lacey, too, is delightful as Henry’s awfully sweet friend (even after Henry purloins his wife). Lacey gets to play tough in the play within the play as the suspicious writer in the first scene. (It’s not this confusing when you see it live.) And he gets to crumble and break our hearts, just as the Righteous Brothers sing about “something beautiful dying.” Likewise, William Bowry gets to play two characters in hot pursuit and does so seamlessly.
The women in the play are, for the most part, glorified objects of affection, exactly what the writer’s actress-wife complains about in the second scene. That’s not to say their roles aren’t meaty. Gillian Mackay-Smith as the above mentioned actress/wife makes a meal out of righteous indignation. Shanae Burch gets to hold her own with her smug father on the subject(s) of sex and Courtland Jones navigates all the men with a sleek, sensual facility. Again, wonderful ensemble work from Bad Habit.