Studio Theatre’s ‘The Real Thing’ best suited for admirers of Tom Stoppards’ mastery of English

Playwright Henry (Teagle F. Bougere) and his actress wife Charlotte (Caroline Bootle Pendergast) discuss love and parenting in “The Real Thing.” The Studio Theatre production of the Tom Stoppard play runs through June 30.  (Scott Suchman)

The Real Thing” production at Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre is a fantastic show for regular theatergoers and admirers of playwright Tom Stoppard’s mastery of the English language. The play may not be the best introduction to theater for the uninitiated.

Celebrated playwright Henry (the skilled Teagle F. Bougere) explores love, commitment and infidelity in his works. It feels as if Henry is always in the midst of writing while his actor friends are always prepping for the stage.

Bougere proved more than capable of carrying a production as the title role in the Helen Hayes Award-winning “Invisible Man” at the start of Studio’s current season. Bougere’s acting in “The Real Thing” does not disappoint, even if his character is not likable.

While Henry pontificates about high art and pop music, his actor friends Annie (Annie Purcell) and Max (Dan Domingues) have taken on the cause of a jailed rebel soldier named Brodie (Tim Getman). Henry is pretentious to the point of interrupting Max to correct his grammar, rather than listening to his friend’s impassioned defense of Brodie. Henry views himself a wordsmith, but he is not above writing trite dialogue for television. His reading material may be high-brow, but Henry openly favors pop hits to Annie’s predilection for operas.

real thing photo 2
The younger Billy (Enrico Nassi) pursues an older, married Annie (Annie Purcell) in Studio Theatre’s subscription series finale “The Real Thing.” The play marks the Studio debut for both Nassi and Purcell). (Scott Suchman)

Pop music permeates the play, as if the show has a soundtrack. Some audience members sang along quietly, the sugary music providing a break from the play’s serious subject matters. Sound designer Matthew Nielson cleverly weaves music from scenes to set changes. Nielson is the resident sound designer for Round House Theatre in Maryland.

Stoppard has written several plays within the play, with dialogue from one scene reflecting the plot of another. If audiences ever wonder why a playwright chooses a particular subject, e.g., love, friendship, compassion, guilt, “The Real Thing” provides context.

The show runs for 2 ½ hours, with a 15-minute intermission. The first act is so captivating that intermission comes as a surprise. The longer second act drags at times, in particular during the dialogue between Henry and his rebellious teenage daughter Debbie (Barrett Doss). His behavior toward his daughter is reminiscent of an Eliana Minicozzi quotation from Luisa Passerini’s Autobiography of a Generation: Italy, 1968:  “A Communist father is delighted for his daughter to preach free love, but can’t stand for her to practice it.”

Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., presents “The Real Thing” through June 30. Tuesday through Saturday performances start at 8 p.m. Sunday performances are at 7:30 p.m. Matinees begin at 2:00p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost between $39 and $82, with discounts for members of the military, students and senior citizens over the age of 62. For more information, call 202-332-3300.