Director Joseph Coracle said his approach to his latest production, “The Real Thing,” running to March 16 at Silver Spring Stage, was to “let Tom Stoppard do the talking.”
And the British playwright is rarely at a loss for words.
“[Stoppard] is so smart and his facility with language is so amazing,” said actress Julia Morrissey. “His intelligence and wit are on display and that is just so much fun as an actor.”
First performed in London in 1982, “The Real Thing” centers mainly on the lives of two couples; Henry (Scott Courlander), a playwright, and his wife Charlotte (Morrissey), and Max (Pat Miller), an actor, and his wife Annie (Emma Klemt). It's a story about marriage, infidelity, theater and pop culture.
While technically a comedy — Stoppard's quick wit and wordy dialogue make for humorous banter — the complex relationships among the characters in “The Real Thing” lead to some pretty dramatic moments.
“As actors, we've been talking about, 'Is this really a comedy?'” said Courlander. “The story itself is really dramatic; it's about love affairs gone wrong.”
Coracle, making his mainstage directorial debut at Silver Spring Stage, said there were two ways he felt he could approach “The Real Thing.”
“I think you could direct it as a dark comedy where what's under the surface is kind of dark, really emotional issues these characters are dealing with,” he said. “What we've done, is allow the surface jokes — and there are a lot of them — allow that surface humor to be a part of the real characters underneath. That it's not just an act they're putting on.”
But highlighting the humor doesn't mean Coracle and his cast ignore the drama that lies just beneath the surface.
“This is very realistic,” said Courlander. “It's not hard to empathize with these characters.”
It's the realistic portrayal of adult relationships among Stoppard's characters that make them both relatable and sympathetic for audience members.
“[The play] is very much about relationships and how people define them and how people define infidelity,” Klemt said. “You can't look at other relationships and think yours is going to be the exact same way.”
“A big point of this play is that it's not black and white,” added Coracle. “The reason Henry and Annie come to such peace [at the end] is that they realize that it's OK to have other people in their lives ... For [the characters] where everything is black and white, they end up being the most tragic characters in the play.”
Much of what Stoppard's characters learn over the course of the show, is about the importance of making compromises in relationships, especially when it comes to a significant other.
“You have to make bargains every single day,” Klemt said. “I think that's a problem that happens in the show [and] that happens in real life.”
Reflection of real life in art is something Coracle said Stoppard does often in his work, and it is especially evident in “The Real Thing.”
“All of these characters are actors or playwrights and what they find is all of their writing and all of their acting reflects something that's going on in their real life,” Coracle said. “[There] are all of these mirror images he puts in.”
Coracle said he hopes the play helps audience members realize that life itself is a bit of an act.
“Hopefully the audience will see the different performances we put on,” he said. “You'll talk to your boss in a different way than you'll talk to your spouse ... We want for the audience to recognize the kind of masks we all wear in conversation.”