Another Stoppard revival. Another complicated word fest of ideas that is a mere shadow of the original production that ran at the Plymouth from January 84 through May 85 with an all-star cast (Jeremy Irons/Glenn Close) directed by Mike Nichols. I saw it and I remember that it was wise, witty, sexy and elegant.
This time round it is running at the American Airlines Theatre – a Roundabout Theatre production with an all-star cast (Ewan McGregor/Maggie Gyllenhaal) directed by Sam Gold who has a penchant for shaking things up a bit.
Tom Stoppard pinpoints in his script what pop tunes should be played as underscoring – they comment on the scenes – for example “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and “Lovers In Love”. Sam Gold has one upped him and has the cast singing the songs throughout while changing set pieces. It becomes a sort of hootenanny. Will there be a cast album?
It’s not enough for Mr. Stoppard to have two couples entangled with each other – he has to complicate matters with an anarchist in jail who has written a play, a teenage daughter Debbie (Madeline Weinstein – originally played by Cynthia Nixon) who speaks freely about her sex life and another actor Billy (Ronan Raftery) in another play within a play – “Tis Pity She’s a Whore” – who becomes entangled with one of the women.
Henry (Ewan McGregor) is a vastly intelligent, pompous, charming, jealous, untrusting, witty at times playwright married to Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon) an actress appearing in his HOUSE OF CARDS who wants to help Brodie the anarchist (a very tall Alex Breaux who speaks as if he has a bag of marbles in his mouth) get his play on. His badly written play – by attempting to enlist the help of Henry for rewrites.
Max (Josh Hamilton) co-stars in HOUSE OF CARDS and is married to actress Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Henry was in love with his wife Charlotte but is now in love with Annie. Or is he? Two years separate the two acts as we see the results of wife swapping.
Be on guard when told you are loved. “You are the only one, darling – but where have you been?” Henry (Stoppard) has a very cynical view of love. He isn’t very happy with either Charlotte or Annie. But he does love words and how words are put together more than anyone or anything else.
The set is cold (lots of records and books). The costumes left me colder. The gimmick of singing the set changes distracting and unnecessary. Ergo I didn’t believe the characters.
I very much liked Maggie Gyllenhaal but there is little chemistry with Ewan McGregor who at times is a bit too light on his feet. Lovers in love should be in love. They don’t seem to be.
I happen to be reading “Lilly – Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman” by Peter Feibelman (AVON BOOKS 1998). They had a tumultuous but wonderful relationship, he twenty five years younger than she. I thought of them while viewing THE REAL THING (which says a lot about the production) and I’d like to quote from the text:
Lillian: I love you. Whatever that word means. I’ve come to know less and less what it means…all I know is what one is willing to do about it. Who you’re willing to take an action for. Who you’re not, that’s all I know – that’s all there is to know about love. Do you really love me?
Lillian: I wonder.
Peter: Take that back.
Lillian: I take it back. I can’t afford to wonder.
SOUND OF DRUNKEN LAUGHTER.
Lillian: I want to come sit on your lap.
Love really is complicated. Read the book.
Through Jan 4th 2015
Photos: Joan Marcus
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