I saw this Tom Stoppard play on Broadway on 11/6. It had its Broadway premiere in 1984 with Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Christine Baranski, and Peter Gallagher. Also with Cynthia Nixon in the role of Baranski and Irons’ daughter. This new cast has Ewan MacGregor in the Irons role (MacGregor’s Broadway debut), Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Close role (also her Broadway debut), Cynthia Nixon in the Baranski role (playing the mother of her previous character), and Josh Hamilton in the Gallagher role.
An amusing note about Nixon in the original production. She auditioned for the role of the daughter, Mike Nichols was directing it. He thought she was perfect for the part - - he also thought she was perfect for a small role in *Hurlyburly*, a David Rabe play he was directing at the same time. That show had an even starrier cast: William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Ron Silver, Jerry Stiller, and Sigourney Weaver (also Judith Ivey, but I wouldn’t call her an above-the-title type). Nichols figured that Nixon’s character appeared at the beginning and end of *Hurlyburly* and in the middle of *The Real Thing* - - the theaters were two blocks away, no big whoop. He cast her in both roles. I hope she didn’t have to change her makeup. And I hope one show was shorter than the other, so she could do both curtain calls…
Anyway, I want to say something about the audience. This is a Tom Stoppard play, so the audience was older (I didn’t see anyone under 30, very few people under 40), smarter, and had better manners than your typical Broadway audience. Very civilized! Or, as the English would spell it, civilised.
The show starts with one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever had in the theatre. The set is a living room. Josh Hamilton is sitting at the coffee table, building a house of cards. Cynthia Nixon walks in, his wife. She’s just come from a business trip in Geneva. He asks her questions about the trip - - his tone is a little hostile, it’s sort of an interrogation. It turns out he found her passport while she was away, so he knows she wasn’t in Geneva. She’s having an affair.
Next scene: the lights change, some music comes on, and Ewan MacGregor comes onstage. He’s talking to Nixon, who is offstage. She comes onstage, she’s his wife. So I assumed this was a Tom Stoppard special, a play that takes place in two different time periods. Then Josh Hamilton comes on, and for a while I assumed he was her ex husband - - but it turns out that the first scene is a scene from the play they’re doing, which was written by MacGregor. It took me a few minutes to piece this together. The thing that made it so thrilling is that this <<coup de théâtre>> took place entirely in my brain. No helicopter, no crashing chandelier - - it all happened in the writing.
I’ve seen and/or read many Stoppard plays over the years, and he’s always interested in something very specific: *Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead* is a riff on *Hamlet* with a dash of *Waiting For Godot* - - *Travesties* takes on Lenin, Dada, and James Joyce, all in the context of *The Importance of Being Earnest* - - *Arcadia* explores 17th century number theory (Fermat’s Last Theorem, to be precise), Lord Byron, and landscape architecture - - and *The Coast of Utopia* is overloaded with all that 19th century Russian stuff. *The Real Thing* is about life imitating art and vice versa, but more than the other plays, Stoppard explores the characters.
Everyone gave great performances. Stoppard can be very chatty and stagy, and every once in a while you were handed a note saying, “You are about to hear a monologue”, but the actors handled it well. Nixon’s English accent bothered me at first, but I got used to it. Maybe she chose to make her delivery a little more stilted in the first scene, when she’s “on stage”. Hm.