Procol Harum

the Pale

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The Real Thing

Tom Stoppard's 'Procol' play reviewed

Any Paler in London in between late May and early August 1999 will be surely be interested in catching the play at The Donmar Warehouse (thanks, Sam). The second item on this page was printed in a newspaper from Auburn, NY, February 2006 (thanks, Jonas).

The play received a fantastic review in The Sunday Times: excerpts follow ...

Many plays claim classic status, but Tom Stoppard's analysis of life, art and infidelity is The Real Thing, says John Peter.

Powerhouses do not come much smaller, nor much more powerful, than the Donmar Warehouse, and its latest production is right up to its highest and most impeccable standards ...

... Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing seems at first something of a teaser. A man is building a house of cards. For him, though, this is not a real thing but only a game, for it turns out that he is, by profession, an architect ...

... But in the next scene you realize that none of this is the real thing: what you have just seen was only a play within the play, called The House of Cards, and it is obviously about infidelity ...

... Few playwrights can equal Stoppard in dramatising the silent fissures within a marriage, or in marking out the inner no man's land where the intimate exasperations that come from habit change into the destructive impatience that comes from maladjustment. ...

... Is there anything you can believe in; anything rock solid, the real thing? ... The system of relativities called life enmeshes you in its net of dangers and possibilities. Do you love somebody because you are in love with them? Or is being in love the sum total of loving? ...

... This is a big play, big with ideas and passions. It is also a great play ... In the end, The Real Thing bears public witness to private values ... Stoppard's intellectual gymnastics and his glittering jokes are a cover for hard thinking. If, like Henry, you think, or pretend to think, that Bach pinched one of his most famous themes from Procol Harum, you will still have to decide which of them is the real thing for you ...This is the true relativity theory of life and values. The only certainty is that you cannot stay in Arcadia for ever and that one of the ways you can identify the real thing is the fact that it has its price and its perils ... its price is one which you very much want to pay. Which is why you leave this wonderful play feeling thrilled, insecure and provisionally hopeful.

By Tom Woods: Thursday, 2 February 2006

Grade: A

One of the hallmarks of Tom Stoppard's plays is an almost obsessive literary confidence. There are references to Shakespeare, Wilde, Keats, Strindberg and John Ford (the playwright, not the film director) peppered throughout his script for The Real Thing, as there are in all of his works.

But The Real Thing is one of his least lunatic and most thoughtful plays, a meditation on what constitutes love and what constitutes art and where, if at all, they may meet. It is an emotionally honest and visceral examination of marriage and fidelity and, since it is Tom Stoppard, it is extremely funny.

Director Robert Moss has made good on a three-year-old promise to stage this play (it was supposed to end the 2002 season) and this production is evidence that he has spent a good deal of time thinking it over in the interim. His direction is flawless; the focus is always where it needs to be; the actors are perfectly motivated, and there is not a single moment that doesn't ring true.

Kelly AuCoin and Angela Reed (Crimes of the Heart) carry the play as Henry and Annie.

Both give compelling and nuanced performances, and they develop a chemistry that fairly bristles. AuCoin is perfectly at ease aiming barbs at inferior art while passionately defending his preference for Procul [sic] Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale to Bach's Air for [sic] G String. Reed is absolutely solid as an actress who believes that love and infidelity are, if regrettable, at least compatible. Even if Henry and Annie aren't, Reed and AuCoin are a match made in heaven.

They are deftly supported by Eva Kaminsky and John G Preston as their ex-mates, Charlotte and Max. Kaminsky gives her character an earthy honesty and pragmatism, and Preston is the personification of shattered expectations.

A trio of Syracuse University drama students fills out the cast with Neil Roberts as a seductive young actor, Jessica Mortellaro as Henry's and Charlotte's daughter, and Max Osinski as an opportunistic cause célèbre. All turn in thoroughly professional performances.

Lauren Helpern has developed a fascinating set design for the play, allowing for detailed scene changes almost instantly. Progressively restricting the egress in the second act is a nice, subtle touch.

Steve TenEyck (Two Rooms and The Price at Kitchen Theatre) does a wonderful job lighting the play, and Jonathan Herter's sound design is, as usual, rock solid. The fine, consistent accents are testament to the talents of Dialect Coach and SU Professor, Elizabeth Ingram.

If you go ...

What: The Real Thing

When: 7:30 tonight, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; continues through Feb. 12
Where: Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse
Box office: Call 443-3275

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