By Katie Jarvis
Walking into Pinnacle Acting Company’s production of The Real Thing, at Westminster College in Salt Lake City I expected witty banter, relationship drama, and cultural commentary typical of a Tom Stoppard play. What I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised by, were the large dose of raw emotion, incredible acting, and philosophical commentary made conversational and accessible, all set to a marvelous soundtrack.
The Real Thing takes place in the late 1980s in London, England. The characters consist of two couples at the start, Henry (Jared Larkin) and Charlotte (Brenda Hattingh), and Max (Stein Erickson) and Annie (Melanie Nelson). Henry is an intellectual playwright who has had some success, while Charlotte, Max, and Annie are all actors. These two couples quickly break up when Henry and Annie are discovered to be having an affair and they choose each other over their spouses, getting married by Act II. The majority of the play we are present with Henry and Annie as they explore what it means to be present in a relationship, in love, vulnerable, adulterous, committed, superior, jealous, and reality’s role in both performances and daily life. Annie is involved in trying to get a soldier named Brodie (Steve Allyn) freed from prison for lighting a wreath on a war memorial on fire. During this time, Annie also has an emotional affair with Billy (Alec Kalled), a young actor who she co-stars with in a production in Glasgow, Scotland. Henry’s relationship with his teenage daughter Debbie (Reyleigh MacCready) is explored in one of the last scenes and Henry is disturbed by how cynical she is about sex and love. This is an acting heavy showwith is a lot of back and forth so the actors are constantly being stretched to the maximum. They rise to the occasion splendidly, especially Larkin and Nelson, who are onstage and talking for the majority of the show. The relationship they portray between Henry and Annie is both disturbing and inspiring. The relationship is a product of adultery, but their commitment to and care for one another is equal parts touching and flawed. Hattingh and Erickson are opposite examples in their reactions to being left. Hattingh gives Charlotte a delicious snark, and Erickson gives Max a wounded puppy feel. McCready is only on stage for one scene as Debbie, with both Larkin and Hattingh, but she shines. Her disillusioned teen girl is heartbreaking and relatable. Kalled as Billy and Allyn as Brodie are both on stage for relatively short periods of time, but they both bring a freshness and zeal to their respective scenes. It is clear Director Mark Fossen and Assistant Director Samantha Miller worked to create an intimate, careful and intuitive piece. The only thing that leaves the audience wanting a bit are the inconsistent accents for some of the characters, but it doesn’t negatively impact the majority of the production.
Pinnacle Acting Company’s online advertising for The Real Thing included the questions, “What is the ‘real thing’? What is ‘real’ love, ‘real’ art, ‘real’ politics?” These are big questions and big concepts and they need to be handled carefully. The production elements do a phenomenal job of letting the concepts shine through. The Dumke Black Box Theater is exceptionally good at this kind of symbolic work. The audience seating is set in a traditional proscenium way, with audience on one half, stage on the other. The set (Spencer Potter), sound production (Sam Allen), and lighting design (Joshua Manning) all has simple but significant aspects that contributed to the overall story and do not distract. The set has clean lines and minimal furniture. There are two large projector screens on the right and left of the back of the set and images of various locations are projected onto those screens to give a sense of place without trying to physically recreate it. The lighting is simple and clean, with several scenes where light pours through “latticed windows” from above and onto the stage. Costuming is era appropriate to the 80’s but not distracting and had more to do with the characters themselves than time period stereotypes. One of the most delightful elements is the use of music during the scene changes, and during the scenes themselves. Songs such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” by The Crystals and “Um Um Um Um Um Um” by Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders were both mentioned in the text and used during later portions of the show as background music. This clever reflection is not lost on the audience and helps us all to feel that we are “in on the joke.” Other beautiful moments include songs throughout the entire production.
I felt that I was taken on a journey with this production of Pinnacle Acting Company’s The Real Thing. My heart was involved, my head was engaged, and my intellectual boyfriend who accompanied me was both impressed and emotionally impacted. We discussed the production at length on the drive back down to Orem, and it made for some incredible conversation. The Real Thing is about complicated and sometimes uncomfortable subject matter, but it navigates beautifully over, under, and through the stories and theories it shares. I highly recommend Pinnacle Acting Company’s latest production and encourage anyone with an interest in truth, writing, and authenticity in relationships to come and be mentally teased by its playful, skillful, heartbreaking repartee. It truly is The Real Thing.
Note: The Real Thing is a PG-13 show, and is appropriate for teens and above
Pinnacle Acting Company presents The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard
Dumke Black Box Theater, Westminster College, Jewett Center for the Performing Arts, 1200-1252 E 1700 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84105
Jan. 4-6, 12-13, 20 7:30 PM, 2:00 PM matinee Jan. 13, 21
Pinnacle Acting Company Facebook Page
The Real Thing Facebook Event