The Real Thing
Tom Stoppard is justly renowned for his erudition and wit, but in his 1980s drama The Real Thing he also found a (philandering) heartbeat beneath all the allusions to Strindberg, Wilde, Coward, and Herman’s Hermits. The hero is a Stoppard-like playwright named Henry (Ewan McGregor), who drops one actress wife (Cynthia Nixon) for another (Maggie Gyllenhaal) as he searches for ever-elusive authenticity at home and at work. Henry’s snobbishly high standards are continually thwarted—by writer’s block, by the need to take dumb TV-script assignments, by his new wife’s infidelity, and even by his own (mostly closeted) populist tastes.
McGregor is confident and sexy, using badinage as a bandage over wounds he’d rather not examine too closely. Nixon (who played Henry’s teenage daughter in the Tony-winning 1984 Broadway production with Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close) is a worthy foil, wearing dowdy dresses and a look of wry resignation. Gyllenhaal, a pixie-cut dream girl, has a chillier but still effective presence. But director Sam Gold’s fussy production blurs the distinction between scenes with a single drab set and cast-sung interludes of ’60s pop. Not only is it harder to follow the tricky plot (and its plays-within-plays), but the songs suggest a kumbaya solidarity among the characters that undercuts the show’s message about the challenges of forging connections. B+