Like lemon cars, theatrical productions require the breakdown of multiple factors to be truly defective. In the case of Riverwalk Theatre's current black box production of “The Real Thing,” contributing factors to its failure are inconsistent, poor British accents and the pacing of a tranquilized turtle, among many others. It’s unclear whether director Leo Poroshin simply does not understand playwright Tom Stoppard's script or if he does not care, but the end result is the same: “The Real Thing” is a pain best avoided.
Stoppard's script follows Henry (Tod Humphrey), a playwright who cannot navigate the mysteries of love, unlike his fictional characters. But the plot is secondary to Stoppard's own internal musings, which play out as arguments between all the characters in the show.
To use Stoppard’s metaphor, dialogue should serve as a cricket bat that enables a skilled player to propel a ball with minimal effort. But Poroshin and his cast wield Stoppard's cricket bat like a tree limb batting at a pi'ata with blinders on. It’s a shame that virtually all of the wit, passion and complexity promised in Stoppard’s landmark play is virtually absent here. The quick banter, the heady righteousness juxtaposed with immature hypocrisy, the alluring mystery of intangible concepts like love, are all but ignored in this superficial rendition.
There are moments when Stoppard’s dialogue works by itself, but most of the play requires the actors to do far more than deliver surface interpretations accompanied by artificial hand gestures. After all “The Real Thing” is not a farce; it’s a skewering parody of the romantic comedy genre in general.
One of the better aspects of this production is Heather Brown’s set design.
Turning the black box space into a thrust stage multiplies the space for the actors to move, as well as bringing the audiences closer to the action. Unfortunately, there's little action to be had and even less romantic chemistry from the two leads, whose relationship supposedly evolves from secret affair to icy avoidance.
Surely Poroshin was smart enough to comprehend the show’s poetic potential or he would not have picked the script in the first place. But beyond meeting the bare minimum requirement of memorized lines, the cast utterly fails to convey any of the layers of meaning in their subtext-laden dialogue. As a result, audience members are left resting their heads on their hands waiting for the play to end and wondering if the hype surrounding the script is the real thing.
“The Real Thing”
Through Sunday, Oct. 13 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday $12/$10 students, seniors and military Riverwalk Theatre black box 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700 riverwalktheatre.com