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“The Real Thing” Hasn’t Quite Gelled

"The Real Thing" runs until Feb. 20th
“The Real Thing” runs until Feb. 20th

On opening night last Friday, Theatre in the Park’s presentation of British playwright Tom Stoppard’s 1984 and 2000 Tony Award®-winning backstage comedy, The Real Thing, had not quite gelled. As he often does, Stoppard plays tricks on the audience, mixing selected scenes from the plays of the philandering playwright Henry (Paul Paliyenko) with episodes from the dramatist’s steamy private life with his first wife Charlotte (Sandi Sullivan) and his second wife Annie (Page Purgar).

During his first marriage, Henry cheated on Charlotte with Annie, an actress who was then married to Max (Larry Evans), the leading man in Henry’s play House of Cards. Later, after she and Henry married, Annie cheats on him with her leading man Billy (Justin Brent Johnson) while they are on the road performing ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Meanwhile, Annie embraces the cause of an inarticulate young political prisoner named Brodie (Rob Rainbolt); and Henry and Charlotte try to dissuade their only child, their headstrong teenage daughter Debbie (Sarah Bousquet), from embarking on an affair with an older man.

Paul Paliyenko is wryly comic as Henry, a charming, self-centered cad who becomes unhinged by the thought that his wives have simultaneously cuckolded him! Sandi Sullivan and Page Purgar give warm and winning performances as Charlotte and Annie, respectively; Larry Evans adds a nice cameo as Max; and Justin Johnson as Billy, Sarah Bousquet as Debbie, and Rob Rainbolt as Brodie make the most of their brief moments in the spotlight.

But the laughs are scattered in TIP’s production of The Real Thing, and the award-winning comedy never generates the tsunami of laughter that engulfs most Stoppard audiences. Frequent scene changes, during which scenic designer Stephen J. Larson’s lovingly detailed but somewhat cumbersome scenery is rolled on and off, on and off, made the Friday-night TIP audience’s willing suspension of disbelief harder and harder to sustain as the evening unfolded.

To squelch the audience grumbles heard at intermission and after the final curtain, TIP guest director Jesse R. Gephart and the players need to pick up the pace while digging deeper into their characters to make them more three-dimensional and to make their relationships with each other more palpable. Only then will TIP’s rendition of this vintage romantic comedy, which will complete its three-week run on Feb. 10-13 and 18-20, seem anything like The Real Thing of theater legend.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 9th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Adam Sobsey (who awarded the show 2.5 of 5 stars):; Feb. 9th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks:; and Feb. 7th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Alan R. Hall: (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 4th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

Theatre in the Park presents THE REAL THING at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10-12, 3 p.m. Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 19, and 3 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $22 ($16 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel).


INFORMATION: 919/831-6936 or SHOW:



NOTE: On Saturday, Feb. 12th, a $40 “Lover’s Special” ticket package will include two tickets, two glasses of wine, a rose, and chocolate. OTHER LINKS:

The Play: (Wikipedia) and (Internet Broadway Database).

Study Guide (courtesy the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company of Chicago, IL):

The Playwright: (British Council Contemporary Writers), (Wikipedia), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Internet Movie Database).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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