The Real Thing
Meeting the right person, getting to know them, spending your waking moments thinking about them. Falling in love, getting married. Are you ready to spend the rest of your life with this person? And how do you know this love is real?
"The Real Thing" begs these questions, and shows us more insight into married English life. The Gamm's latest production of Tom Stoppard's literate play is about love, betrayal, and apparently, a semi-autobiographical account of some moments in his own life.
Henry (Tony Estrella) a successful playwright and his wife Charlotte (Marianna Bassham) enjoy a comfortable life in London, in the early 1980's. He is about to appear on the BBC's "Desert Island Discs" and agonizes over which selections will make him appear less superficial, given a serious love of pop music.
Actress Charlotte offers her advice and soon is visited by Annie (Jeanine Kane) and Max (Tom Gleadow) who are both actors, as well. We soon learn that Annie and Henry are having an affair when Max and Charlotte run off to the kitchen to fix some crudités and dip.
Max realizes the affair is going on and Annie leaves him to be with Henry, professing her love for only him. Charlotte and Henry divorce, leaving the ideal situation for our two lovers. But when Annie is cast in a new play in Glasgow, she must be away from him for long periods of time. Her costar Billy (Marc Dante Mancini), a much younger man than Henry, flirts endlessly and intrigues her despite her protests. She admits to Henry that her relationship with Billy is merely emotional and not physical but hints that there may have been more.
Henry is heartbroken but Annie doesn't want to give up Henry, citing her love for him again. The addition of a new character Brodie (Steve Kidd) who is a criminal Annie believes to be falsely imprisoned further complicates her now strained relations with Henry as she constantly asks him to ghost write a play about his experiences.
Stoppard weaves his wordplay elegantly and often we are asked to take our sides between emotion and intellect; this production is highlighted by Henry's pop musical selections, adding to the mood.
Estrella is a natural for this work, wearing his heart openly in this performance. Bassham is reserved but bright in her role, exposing Charlotte's distant manner and propensity for cheating on Henry. Gleadow as Max is competent and believably heartbroken upon learning of his wife's infidelity.
Jeanine Kane's Annie is a fabulous performance, she infuses her role with insight and ebullience and is full of chemistry with Estrella. As the chatty daughter Debbie, Betsy Rinaldi is glib and funny. And finally as Billy, Marc Dante Mancini is memorable in his small role.
Gamm's small intimate venue is perfect for this type of show; director Fred Sullivan takes us into the play-within-a-play with skill.
"The Real Thing" has its roots in English theater, of course, but Broadway, as well. Produced in 1982 in London and substantially revised for American audiences in 1984, the stateside production starred Jeremy Irons and Glen Close.
"The Real Thing" is running through April 14 at The Gamm Theater, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI. For tickets or info, call 401-723-4266 or visit gammtheater.org.