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Silver Spring Stage The Real Thing

By • Mar 7th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
The Real Thing
Silver Spring Stage: (Info) (Web)
Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring, MD
Through March 16th
2:30 with intermission
$20/$18 Seniors/$18 Juniors
Reviewed March 2nd, 2013

Acting a Tom Stoppard character is no easy thing. There’s the business of mastering the non-stop verbal pyrotechnics and wit the playwright gives most of his characters. More important, in a play like The Real Thing, now running at Silver Spring Stage (SSS), is the ability to convey to the audience the emotional content underlying the clever words.

The protagonist, Henry (Scott Courlander), a verbally fluid, witty, married playwright reminiscent of Stoppard himself, has a problem: while he has trouble writing love scenes that seem real, he is involved in an affair with the Annie (Emma Klemt), the wife of an actor in his current production. When we first see Henry and Annie together, they talk a great deal about being in love and their plans to leave Charlotte (Julia Morrissey) and Max (Patrick Miller), respectively, but the sense of passionate engagement that one might expect from two people about to turn their lives, and those of their spouses, upside down is missing.

Flash forward. Old partners discarded, Henry and Annie are now married. It is at this point that their passions come to the fore. Henry’s passion, expressed in a monologue that Courlander fluently delivers, is for the craft of writing plays, finding just the right words. Annie’s appears to be for a script being written by Brodie, a jailed Scottish antiwar protester who, alas, cannot write his way out of a paper bag. Their fencing over Brodie’s script stands in, to an extent, for unacknowledged tensions in their relationship, such as Henry’s disinclination to express jealousy of flirtations Annie may be having with others (a trait that also annoyed Charlotte). Yet the overt tone of their relationship remains one of good-humored surface affection and amity, maintained in large part by the smiling mask of Klemt’s somewhat distanced interpretation of Annie.

Henry believes in commitment. In one of the play’s strongest scenes, he and his precocious 17 year old daughter, Debbie (Katie Zitz) debate the subject, with Debbie insisting that there are no commitments, only bargains that must be remade daily. Exclusivity, she argues, amounts to colonization. No, Henry rejoins: what matters is to know someone inside and out, to love your partner at her worst, not just at her best. Courlander portrays this emotional deepening with conviction.

A test of his conviction arrives soon enough in the form of Billy (Conor Scanlon), a young actor portraying Brodie in the script that Henry has heavily rewritten at Annie’s instance. Releasing her inner cougar, Annie has responded to his overtures with an affair of her own. Henry, suspicious of her actions, is at last fully jealous, but concludes that to truly be committed to Annie, he must accept her infidelity and let it run its course.

Henry has the most interesting character arc in the play, and Courlander ably plots his progress from a man who keeps feeling at arm’s length through intellectual gymnastics to one who fully embraces the contradictions and pain of love and life (I was reminded of Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company). Klemt’s Annie, on the other hand, changes far less, seemingly content to remain on the relatively complacent surface of her relationships.

The supporting performances are strong. Morrissey’s Charlotte is particularly noteworthy, being in her two scenes the more interesting, and in some ways the more sympathetic, of Henry’s wives. Her warmly ironic presence in the second act scene with Henry, as she admits to several affairs during their marriage, is one of the show’s best moments. Zitz’s Debbie is the kind of smart, aware, energetic kid that would delight any parent. Scanlon’s Billy has the youthful enthusiasm and verbal facility that would believably attract someone like Annie, and Miller does what he can with Max, the rather thankless role of a cuckold who is devastated by Annie’s breezy betrayal. In the smallest role in the play, Brian McDermott plays Brodie as the sort of loutishly masculine fellow one might expect to become a soccer hooligan. With his size and ability to portray aggression, there could be a Stanley Kowalski in McDermott’s future.

More than any other show I’ve seen recently, the sound design of The Real Thing (by director Joseph Coracle, who also designed the set) is central to the production. I mean that literally: a 1980s-style stereo cabinet sits squarely in the middle of the stage throughout the production. As it comes time for each scene change, an actor puts a new record (a real record, the vinyl kind, thankfully) on the phonograph, and cast members dance as they change flats and set dressing pieces. This is the best solution I have yet seen to the often tedious business of set changes in the SSS space. The music played is itself important. As much as he is a self-described snob about words, Henry much prefers 1960s-70s pop (The Monkeys, The Everly Brothers, Neil Sedaka, etc.) to classical music, a preference faithfully and amusingly reflected in the sound design.

As much as the play’s themes focus on the meaning of love and commitment, and the effects of suspicion and betrayal upon the characters’ relationships, The Real Thing is still a play set in the sometimes odd and rarified atmosphere in which theater people live and breathe. The words, thoughts, and actions of Stoppard’s actors and writers have wider meaning to the extent that all the world is, in fact, a stage.

Director’s Note

From the director to several wonderful people: a big hug and a tremendous thank you to Bob Scott, who put his heart and soul into this show, to Andrea Spitz, for her unquenchable good humor and energy, and to my lovely bride Jenn for all the love, support, and encouragement.

And a few words from the writers who have nudged the world a little:
“The course of true love never did run smooth” (Shakespeare)
“To be able to say how much you love is to love little” (Petrarch)
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” (Albert Einstein)
“Live is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them-that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” (Lao Tzu)
“Whenever you’re near, I hear a symphony. Each time you speak to me, I hear a tender rhapsody of love. As you stand holding me, whispering how much you care, a thousand violins fill the air. Don’t let this moment end… Keep standing close to me… so close to me….. I hear a symphony… a tender melody.” (Diana Ross and the Supremes).

Cast

  • Max: Patrick Miller
  • Charlotte: Julia Morrissey
  • Henry: Scott Courlander
  • Annie: Emma Klemt
  • Billy: Conor Scanlan
  • Debbie: Katie Zitz
  • Brodie: Brian McDermott

Production Staff

  • Producer: Bob Scott
  • Assistant Producer: Jason Damaso
  • Director: Joseph Croacle
  • Production Stage Manager: Katherine Offutt
  • Set Designer: Joseph Coracle
  • Master Carpenter: Bob Scott
  • Assisted by: Alex Batselos, Nick Batselos, Jenn Coracle, Joseph
  • Coracle, Seth Ghitelman, Harlene Leahy Mary Seng
  • Painting: Jenn Coracle, Seth Ghitelman, Harlene Leahy Mary Seng
  • Lighting Designer: James Robertson
  • Sound Designer: Joseph Coracle
  • Sound Engineer: Jamie Coupar
  • Running Crew: Katherine Offutt, Bob Scott
  • Costumer: Crystal Simone Fergusson
  • Properties/Set Decoration & Dressing: Bob Benn
  • Makeup and Hair Design: Eric Jones
  • Artistic Liaison: Andrea Spitz
  • Playbill: Leta Hall
  • Playbill Cover Design: Craig Allen Mummey
  • Subscription Brochure: Craig Allen Mummey
  • Hospitality: Kathie Mack

Disclaimer: Silver Spring Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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