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'The Real Thing' review: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal star in less showy revival

Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal, in a scene

Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal, in a scene from Tom Stoppard's play, "The Real Thing," in New York. Photo Credit: AP

"Loving and being loved" are "unliterary," scoffs the sophisticated playwright in Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing," adding that such works are merely "happiness expressed in banality and lust."

Of course, the fellow says this at the same time we are thrilling to the daredevil emotional profundities in one of the most gloriously articulate, least banal love stories that modern theater knows enough to cherish.

So don't look here for a complaint about this being the third Broadway revival of Stoppard's 1982 dissection of adultery, the theater, radical politics and other so-called real things of the aching heart. (Especially since this same theater, the Roundabout, is simultaneously offering Stoppard's rarely seen and wonderful "Indian Ink" at its Off-Broadway house.)

Admittedly, despite the marquee allure of Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal in their impressively comfortable Broadway debuts, this is less of a luscious showpiece than was the 1984 New York premiere with Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close, and has less dazzling heat than the 2000 one with Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle.

But everyone, including Cynthia Nixon as the mother of the teenage girl she played in 1984, is appealing and smart. And this romantic serio-comedy -- Stoppard's most accessible work -- remains a dizzying Chinese box of unpredictable devises that express devastating compassion for that most basic yet elusive human emotion.

The problem, and I'm afraid there is one, comes from the look of director Sam Gold's production, which works against immediacy by spreading the action on a set so wide and cool it invites the big theater to swallow up the intimacy.

To their credit, these fine actors resist an impulse to push to fill the space. McGregor is smooth and debonair and seems enormously comfortable in the increasingly thin skin of Henry, the playwright who leaves his actress wife (Nixon) for Annie (Gyllenhaal), the socially conscious wife of an actor (Josh Hamilton) in his play.

Gyllenhaal, with her chopped hair, her kind and intelligent face and big, dangly limbs, is as enchantingly unaffected as she has been Off-Broadway in Chekhov. By the time Henry learns that Annie may be cheating on him, his brainy contempt for the banalities of love and the celebration of words are understandably shredded into a primal cry of helpless obsession.

Henry's unlikely obsession with the simple magic of early '60s pop is tellingly used between scenes, though Gold's idea to begin each act with a sing-along is as jarring as a hootenanny in a Noel Coward play.


WHAT "The Real Thing"

WHERE American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

INFO $67-$142; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org

BOTTOM LINE Less showy revival of still-dazzling Stoppard.

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