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The Genuine Article

A first-rate production of 'The Real Thing' dodges deftly between truth and make-believe.

September 30, 1998|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At first glance, Tom Stoppard's intricate comedy "The Real Thing" might seem an odd choice for a college production, not because of its crisp stylization or its multilayered shadings, but for its honest and reasoned examination of infidelity, both personal and professional.

The quality of love, though, is not the only thing Stoppard has in mind with regard to the subject of the real thing. The play deals with a playwright, actors and actresses, dodging in delicate patterns between make-believe and reality, and whether their own work constitutes a sham or the real thing.

Director John Ferzacca picked the right time to do the play. He has in hand a group of young performers very capable of handling the difficult job of breathing life into Stoppard's work. Ferzacca's understanding of the intricacies of Stoppard's rhythms and the tricky shadings of character development has guided his cast through a solid, entertaining and laudable staging.

It opens with a couple at the moment of discovery of infidelity. It is brittle and riddled with glib emotion. Then Stoppard pulls his first rug out from under the audience. It is only a scene from a play. The scene's two actors, one of whom is the playwright's wife, are socializing with the playwright and the actor's wife when the theater is dark one Sunday. Now in reality infidelity pops up, and the puzzle begins its journey through Stoppard's labyrinthine hall of mirrors.

To enrich his broth, Stoppard adds a purported activist named Brodie, arrested for setting a fire during a demonstration and who eventually writes a play about his story, and yet another young actor with lust on his mind, who winds up playing Brodie onstage.

If all this sounds confusing, Stoppard makes sure it is not. And oddly, all the characters becomes reconciled to what they've been seeking all along, in one form or another: their own version of the real thing.

Ferzacca's actors not only have their accents in all the right shades, but they also have been able to dig into the characters, most of whom are older than they are, with a great deal of insight and depth.

Timothy C. Todd is the playwright Henry, a defensive intellectual whose main failing is his adoration of pop music. Todd creates a fascinating sense of a writer desperately trying to make reality match the world he imagines.

Lea Kassebaum is marvelous as Annie, the actress who has cheated on her actor husband with Henry, and finally marries him knowing that one day he will grow into the man she really adores.

As Max, the actor that Annie leaves for Henry, Robert C. Wilson is bright and as crisp as a Noel Coward creation, deliciously aglow with Max's charm. Tiffany McClintock finds a great solidity in her role as Charlotte, and an honesty that makes her very real.

The young actor who eventually plays the activist Brodie and lusts after Annie is well-defined in the performance of Adam M. Gubman with the brash self-assurance of youth and a sense of young vulnerability.

Darcy Blakesley is good in her brief scene as Henry and Charlotte's daughter, as is D.J. Lapite as a harassed stage manager. Tony A. Swagler fills his scene as Brodie with rich detail and color.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "The Real Thing,"

Drama Lab, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $8-$9. Ends Sunday. (714) 432-5880. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Robert C. Wilson: Max

Tiffany McClintock: Charlotte

Timothy C. Todd: Henry

Lea Kassebaum: Annie

Adam M. Gubman: Billy

Darcy Blakesley: Debbie

Tony A. Swagler: Brodie

D.J. Lapite: Roger

An Orange Coast College Department of Theatre Arts production of Tom Stoppard's comedy. Directed by John Ferzacca. Scenic design: David Scaglione. Lighting design: Rick Golson. Costume design: Brenda Wyatt. Stage manager: Marten G. Lewerth.

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