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The Real Thing

by Tom Stoppard

At the request of more than a few friends, I re-read Stoppard's The Real Thing for this blog! I remembered it being great but I was confused when I picked up the play and the front said "The Real Thing -  a comedy in two acts" -- I didn't remember it being a comedy. I remembered it being a bit darker than that.. but as I was re-reading I uncovered the humor that is layered in with all the changing relationships and building tensions.

What I love most about this play is how Stoppard has captured the difficult and somewhat dramatic issue of the "showmance".. by that, I mean a romance that occurs between two actors during the rehearsal period and run of a show. Certainly not all actors fall prey to this fate but it is quite common, especially among those unattached. All those emotions flying around the space.. some of them are bound to feel real. But are they? In The Real Thing the showmances occur among both the unattached and the attached. The married, to be more specific. As we watch the couples changing over the course of the play - first Max and Annie, and Charlotte and Henry.. then Annie and Henry.. then Annie and Billy.. and whatever's going on between Annie and Brodie... we are led on a path of love and lust all occuring in or caused by the theatre. Will Annie ever find the real thing? Or does she already have it with Henry?

Besides the relationship aspects of the play, Stoppard also grapples with the idea of the writer. When Annie asks Henry, her playwright lover-turned-husband, to read a play written by the not-so-talented prisoner Brodie, he can't get through it. She says:
You're jealous of the idea of the writer. You want to keep it sacred, special, not something anybody can do. Some of us have it, some of us don't. We write, you get written about.
 I think in Henry's case this is true. He does feel that writing is somewhat of a higher calling. That is shouldn't just be dribble slapped on a page. He describes words as:
They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead. 
Much in the way that the work of writers lives on after their deaths, actors often aspire to leave some artistic mark on the world. Whether that be through film or word of mouth of legendary stage performances or creating an ensemble of like-minded people, I think it is a desire that all artists (if not, all people!) experience. To feel that our art has meaning. That it is not just words left ringing in the air. That it effects some change. That is, perhaps, the real thing that we are all seeking.

Tuesday Play-a-day: Moonlight and Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson

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