House of cards
Blue Room’s rendition of Stoppard’s The Real Thing quite enjoyable
Tom Stoppard examines the perception of love in his early ‘80s play, The Real Thing, currently in production at the Blue Room Theatre.
Henry (Paul Stout) is a playwright living in London with his actress wife Charlotte (Betty Burns). She and their mutual friend, actor Max (Rob Wilson), are starring in Henry’s play House of Cards. The scene that introduces Henry finds him on the floor, flipping through a box of old records. He’s to be a guest on a radio show, the premise of which involves one choosing one’s favorite albums to be “stranded” with (you know, if you could only have 10 albums …). He’s concerned that people will find out that he’s not as enamored of great intellectual works as his peers and public might expect; rather, Henry quite fancies pop singles. And the 2-minute, 50-second romances described by such ‘60s British bands as the Mindbenders, the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, et al., echo the dilemma Henry is faced with: “I don’t know how to write love.”
What follows is witty wordplay, pointed observation ("If he had given her a lover instead of a temporary passport, we’d be in a play!” comments Charlotte to her co-star Max, regarding Henry’s play), relationships that fray and new ones that interweave. Henry has been conducting an affair with Max’s wife, Annie (Samantha Perry), an actress best remembered for her portrayal of a nurse on some children’s television show. The two wind up together of course, but not without some heartache to their respective spouses.
The action then picks up two years later with Annie and Henry. Annie badgers Henry about “helping” a firebrand, Brodie (Joe Manente), currently sitting in prison for arson, with his politically obtuse play. This only provides Henry with fuel for some pretty good shots at revolutionary poseurs. Frustrated, Annie leaves to begin work on a stage production in Scotland. On the train, however, she meets her handsome young co-star, Billy (Matt Hammons), who of course fondly remembers her as the nurse from the kids’ show. Billy likes older women. Flirtation sets in.
Stoppard’s play examines how need influences what one wishes to possess in one’s relationships. But it is not as bleak as that. As we travel with the characters on their bumpy, twisting road toward love, we see that only receptiveness facilitates the nurturing of love. Acceptance, not expectation.
The acting helps this along.
Paul Stout brings easy confidence to his role. Henry is witty, likable. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind dropping in on occasionally, as he always has some funny but true observation to share. Stout embodies Henry.
As Annie, Samantha Perry is good. The character’s enthusiasm for her cause célèbre, imprisoned radical “playwright” Brodie, comes across as sincere, if ultimately somewhat misplaced. Annie’s passion for life is also channeled well through Perry, whose mannerisms and expressions all mirror the character’s inner world.
Betty Burns does good work as Charlotte, Henry’s wronged wife. She has a really good scene where Charlotte finally realizes that there is profound truth in Henry’s oft stated observance, “It doesn’t matter.” As Max, Annie’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Rob Wilson also performs well—one feels sympathetic during his character’s breakdown after he learns the truth.
Matt Hammons is effective as Billy, the flirtatious young actor Annie encounters. Giovanna Leah manages to be multi-layered as Henry’s punk daughter, Debbie. And Joe Manente plays it unconsciously ridiculous as “radical” Brodie.
Joe Hilsee’s direction quietly emphasizes the play’s rich subtext. The costumes gathered by Amber Miller are accurate, and her set design comfortable. The interplay of scene changes set to ‘60s pop classics was pleasantly effective.