Writers' Theatre Explores Passion Between a Man and a Woman in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.

Writers' Theatre Explores Passion Between a Man and a Woman in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.
(l. to r.) Richardson, Fortunato, Coon and Sanders in Writer's Theatre, The Real Thing. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.

Chicago, Tuesday, September 27, 2011. When do you know if it’s The Real Thing?  The seven actors onstage at Writer’s Theatre, sort out what is The Real Thing in Tom Stoppard’s play of the same name, that opened Thursday in Glencoe.  The play, one of Stoppard’s most popular, examines the complex and changing nature of love, art and reality.

The show opens with a play (The House of Cards) within a play (The Real Thing). Life imitates art and art imitates life as an actor plays an architect torn apart by the discovery that his wife is having an affair. While in “real” life the playwright is having a secret affair with the actor’s wife.  The parallel universes collide setting up the framework for The Real Thing. In typical Stoppard form, there are no straight answers.  The audience is left to pick up verbal and non-verbal clues throughout the story.   A man builds “a house of cards” on stage reflecting the shaky foundation of his construction along with the shaky foundation of relationships.

The Real Thing, kicks off Writer’s Theatre 20th Anniversary Season, and exemplifies what audiences have come to expect from this consistently high-quality performing company that was deemed the “best company in the nation” by the Wall Street Journal. Prized for their fine interpretations of classic and contemporary theater under the artistic direction of Michael Halberstam,Writer’s Theatre, located on Chicago’s North Shore, has become a major Chicagoland cultural destination that plays to a sold-out and discerning audience of 35,000 patrons each season.

The current production features a superbly talented cast that is a mix of both new and familiar faces. Sean Fortunato, returns to Writers where he previously has appeared in many roles–most recently as Aunt Augusta/Henry in Travels With My Aunt.  Fortunato does an outstanding job this time around capturing the nuances of the multi-faceted playwright, Henry. Audiences will want to catch Carrie Coon, making her Writers’ debut as the quirky Annie, before she heads to The Great White Way where she’ll play Honey, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf–the same role she played last season at the Steppenwolf Theatre’s award-winning production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Jeff winning, leading actress, Natasha Lowe returns to Writers’ where she previously appeared as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Lowe puts on another Jeff-worthy performance as Charolotte, Henry’s first wife, who has some surprises of her own. Ryan Hallahan, returning to Writers’ Theatre where he previously appeared in A Streetcar Named Desire, delivers another fine performance as Brodie. Jordan Lane Shappell makes his Writers’ Theatre debut as Billy, an imprisoned soldier, that Annie has a weakness for. John Sanders (Max) returns to Writers’ Theatre where he previously appeared In Oh Coward!, A Minister’s Wife and The Uneasy Chair (After Dark Award).  Rae Gray, a sophomore at University of Chicago, who has already been making huge inroads into the Chicago Theater scene with That Face (Redtwist Theatre), Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens Theater) and Jailbait (Profiles Theatre), shows the right stuff as the artsy and rebellious Debbie (Henry’s daughter by Charlotte) in her Writers’ Theatre debut.

The design team created a textbook worthy staging of The Real Thing. Scenic designer Collette Pollard, winner of the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award (2010), has put together a magnificent and innovative set that is easily transformed from a train, to a studio, to living quarters with little more than the touch of a finger.  The well-choreographed team moves seamlessly throughout the production staging and arranging the set.  Adding to the artistic arena are: Heather Gilbert (lighting), David Hyman (costumes) and Nick Heggestad (properties). The production stage manager is David Castellanos and the assistant director is Avital Rutenberg Schoenberg.

The Real Thing, penned by Stoppard in 1982, is worthy of this top-notch revival.  The exploration of what is The Real Thing is as relevant today as it was then.  If you’re looking for excellence in theater, put this production on your calendar and head to Writers’ Theater for theater that is just about as good as it gets.

Tickets and Show Information.

Performances continue through November 20, 2011.  Curtain times are Tuesday and Wednesdays at 7:30p.m.;  Wednesday matinees at 2:00p.m. (October 12 and November 16 only); Thursdays at 8:00p.m.; Saturdays at 4:00p.m. and 8:00p.m. and Sundays at 2:00p.m. and 6:00p.m. (no 6:00pm show October 16 or November 20).

Tickets are $45-$65 and are available at the Box Office, 376 Park Avenue, Glencoe; 847-242-6000 or online.

Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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