×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘The Real Thing’ with Ewan McGregor

With:
Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon, Josh Hamilton.

Roundabout rounded up name players for this revival of “The Real Thing,” Tom Stoppard’s meditation on the vagaries of love and the elusive nature of reality. Ewan McGregor makes an impressive Broadway debut as a British playwright whose new play reflects both his own rocky relationship with his cool and distant wife (Cynthia Nixon) as well as his affair with the vivacious wife (a radiant Maggie Gyllenhaal) of the star of his play. Stoppard is a witty brainiac who likes to tease and torment an audience, but helmer Sam Gold’s mannered production is so steeped in artifice, it’s almost antagonistic to the text.

Jeremy Irons, playing opposite Glenn Close in Mike Nichols’ memorable 1984 Broadway production of Stoppard’s dissection of modern marriage, needed no lessons in the mysteries of British humor.  The arched eyebrow, the disdainful smirk, the articulate thrust, the venomous retort — he just got it.

The largely American cast performing here under the helming of Sam Gold (“The Realistic Joneses”) seems overwhelmed, not to say cowed, by the scribe’s blithely brittle humor. Missing the subtlety of the satire, they seem to think this cutting comedy of manners is better played as earnest drama — except for those jarring musical interludes when everyone drops out of character and sits around singing those 1950s and 60s pop songs of which Stoppard was notoriously fond.

Helmer Sam Gold’s austere production, which is sort of expressionistic and sort of not, is alienating at first sight. There’s something very cold and unforgiving about David Zinn’s set — a wall of dead-white squares that periodically opens up to rooms furnished in Danish modern furniture that was already out of style by the 1980s. Only the walls of books tell us that living, thinking people inhabit these rooms.

The initial chill extends to the first scene, a showdown between an aggrieved husband named Max and his adulterous wife, Charlotte, desultorily played by Josh Hamilton and a terribly miscast Nixon. It’s a relief to learn that Max and Charlotte are actors in a play written by Charlotte’s husband, Henry (humanized by McGregor). But since the stage play seems to mirror their own relationship, things look grim for this marriage.

Stoppard is uncharacteristically candid in this play, mulling over the inadequacy of any playwright to reproduce on stage the existential “reality” of life. To replicate, as it were, “the real thing.” Henry does the heavy thinking, but Charlotte gets the best lines: “You don’t really think that if Henry caught me out with a lover, he’d sit around being witty,” she says. Among other things, “his sentence structure would go to pot.”

Once Max arrives on the scene with his real-life wife, Annie (Gyllenhaal, making a perfectly lovely Broadway debut), it’s obvious that Henry’s literary style isn’t the only thing going to pot. He and Annie become lovers and without much ado, ditch their spouses and set up housekeeping together. Despite Kaye Voyce’s uncharacteristically ghastly costumes, which make everyone look dowdy, the personable thesps convince us that these intellectually ill-matched lovers are enthralled with one another.  It should be noted, though, that Henry’s passion for the language of literature (“I don’t think that writers are sacred, but words are”) is more ardent than anything he has to say about his unsophisticated beloved.

By now, the lines of love and duplicity, loyalty and betrayal appear to be clearly drawn.  But can they be trusted? They are certainly strained when the life-affirming and ever-exuberant Annie is carried away by a dubious political cause and convinces Henry to rewrite the hopeless script of an imprisoned anti-war protestor.

It seems that true love has not inspired this brilliant writer but made him a little stupid. Not surprisingly, he gets a wicked case of writer’s block. Serves him right.

real-thing-review-ewan-mcgregor-broadway

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: 'The Real Thing' with Ewan McGregor

American Airlines Theater; 740 seats; $142 top. Opened Oct. 30, 2014. Reviewed Oct. 24. Running time: TWO HOURS, 15 MIN.

Production: A Roundabout Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Tom Stoppard.

Creative: Directed by Sam Gold. Sets, David Zinn; costumes, Kaye Voyce; lighting, Mark Barton; sound, Bray Poor; production stage manager, Charles Means.

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon, Josh Hamilton.

More Legit

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

  • Tina Turner The Musical

    How 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' Tells the Icon's Traumatic Story

    It wasn’t the response Tali Pelman had hoped to receive. The group creative managing director of Stage Entertainment had traveled to Küsnacht, Switzerland, with one goal in mind: Convince Tina Turner that her life could be the stuff of a successful stage musical. “We walked in the door,” Pelman remembers. “Tina was already there, and she greeted [...]

  • Ben McKenzie

    'Gotham' Star Ben McKenzie to Make Broadway Debut in 'Grand Horizons'

    “Gotham” star Ben McKenzie will make his Broadway debut in Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” He joins a cast that includes Oscar nominees Jane Alexander (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Great White Hope”) and James Cromwell (“Babe,” “L.A. Confidential”). The show has a strictly limited 10-week run and begins previews on Dec. 23, 2019, before officially opening [...]

  • The Great Society review

    Listen: Brian Cox on 'Succession,' Shakespeare, and the Crisis We're In

    Brian Cox is having a pop-culture moment with “Succession,” the buzzy HBO series in which he stars. But he’s also an accomplished theater actor with plenty of experience doing Shakespeare — and it serves him well in both “Succession” and in his current Broadway show, “The Great Society.” Listen to this week’s podcast below: Cox [...]

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content