“The Real Thing”: No One Said Love Was Easy

"The Real Thing" opens Feb. 4th and runs until Feb. 20th
"The Real Thing" opens Feb. 4th and runs until Feb. 20th

Theatre in the Park will present The Real Thing, a Tony Award®-winning backstage comedy by Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (nee Tomas Straussler), on Feb. 4-6, 10-13, and 18-20 in its Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in Raleigh, NC.

“I first read this show several months ago,” recalls TIP guest director Jesse R. Gephart, “just before we decided to produce it at TIP. We had decided on doing another production for which, unfortunately, the rights were not available. But, everything happens for a reason.

“Having been familiar with some of Stoppard’s work already,” Gephart explains, “I scanned through some summaries of his plays in order to see if there was something that fit into TIP’s season for this year — and luckily, I found this one. I read it; and, though I didn’t fully grasp all of the ideas in it, I knew it would be the perfect piece to do.”

He adds, “Some of the ideas raised in this show are big (as is normal for Stoppard), but attainable. They are ideas that, though we may not want to accept it, are very every-day, very human: fidelity, infidelity (regardless your viewpoint on it), divorce, love, passion. These are omnipotent. They exist. People make choices every day based on these things.

“This show is very relatable,” claims Gephart. “The characters are us, live and in the flesh, in a way that you can’t escape them. And, aside from it being a stellar script, the structure, and how Stoppard plays with time and location, keeps the audience on the edge of their seat.”

When the curtain rises, says Jesse Gephart, “Henry (Paul Paliyenko), a playwright, has just completed and successfully produced a show titled The House of Cards. We come to find that Henry has been having an affair with Annie (Page Purgar), the wife of his leading man, Max (Larry Evans). His current marriage to Charlotte (Sandi Sullivan), who has also been starring in his show, comes to an end; and Henry and Annie begin a new life together.

“Two years later, in the second act, we meet Billy (Justin Brent Johnson), a handsome, young actor who is currently playing opposite Annie in an out-of-town production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” notes Gephart. Billy sweeps Annie off her feet, and the two begin an affair that ends as quickly as it begins. Henry reconnects with Charlotte to see his only child, Debbie (Sarah Bousquet), off as she departs with a somewhat older man, on the road to womanhood.

“All the while,” Gephart reports, “Annie is attempting to get Henry to ghost-write a television play based on the actions, trial, and jail sentence of a young activist, Brodie (Rob Rainbolt), whom she met on a train some years prior. Billy stars opposite her in the finished product. Brodie is released and comes to visit Annie, showing that not everyone is exactly as we remember them to be.

“Through all of this, Stoppard peppers the show with anecdotes about life, love, marriage, age, and the will to create your own happiness,” says Gephart.

After making its world premiere in London in November 1982 at the Strand Theatre (now the Novello Theatre) and winning the 1982 Evening Standard Award for Best Play, The Real Thing made its Broadway debut, directed by Mike Nichols, on Jan. 5, 1984 at the Plymouth Theatre, where it played for 566 performances before closing on May 12, 1985. The show starred Glenn Close as Annie, Jeremy Irons as Henry, Christine Baranski as Charlotte, Peter Gallagher as Billy, Cynthia Nixon as Debbie, Vyto Ruginis as Brodie, and Kenneth Welsh as Max.

The Real Thing won the 1984 Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the 1984 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play and the 1984 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. The show’s 2000 Broadway revival won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and the 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play.

In addition to director Jesse Gephart, who shares sound design duties with the aptly named Will Mikes, the tip creative team for the real thing includes technical director and set and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, and stage manager Christine Rapp.

“The set consists of two double-sided, wheeled wagon units,” says Jesse Gephart. “With the help of our amazingly dedicated running/deck crew, the set will move and rotate in a magical way that supports and furthers the continuation of the story.”

He adds, “The lighting is fairly standard: transitional lighting for the scene shifts, and general washes for the scenes. [Lighting designer] Steve [Larson] has created a nice plot to use.

“Shawn Larson has put together a great set of costumes,” claims Jesse Gephart. “The time period is 1982-84, and Shawn has really helped ground the story in that world based on the clothes alone.”

Gephart says, “The character of Debbie gets to really exemplify the ‘youth’ look of the time, but Annie wears some very smart ensembles as well. Also, the costumes are arranged so that our dressing crew is able to perform some quick changes — sometimes very quick — that will really wow our audiences….

“As with a lot of Stoppard works,” says director Jesse Gephart, “making sure that the ideas and words remain in a grounded place, in order for your audience to grasp them, is very important. Some of the ideas are lofty, but all are within reach. It’s our job as artists to make sure that is so, and the cast is doing a wonderful job.

“Also, because each scene takes place in a different location, yet some are meant to be reminiscent of scenes prior, creating a set that would help us illustrate that proved to be a big challenge,” Gephart says. “[But scenic designer] Steve Larson has created a wonderful set that has its own surprises to it.”

Theatre in the Park presents THE REAL THING at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 and 5, 3 p.m. Feb. 6, 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).

BOX OFFICE: http://www.etix.com/.

INFORMATION: 919/831-6936 or info@theatreinthepark.com. SHOW: http://theatreinthepark.com/the_real_thing.html.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://theatreinthepark.com/directions_and_parking.html.

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


The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real_Thing_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real_Thing_(play) (Internet Broadway Database).

Study Guide (courtesy the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company of Chicago, IL): http://remy.mighty-site.com/filebin/RealThing_StudyGuide.pdf.

The Playwright: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth254 (British Council Contemporary Writers), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Stoppard (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8912 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001779/ (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 preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.comand type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Reviewpreviews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.


By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).