Today I have something a little different to review, a play by the Czech-born British writer Tom Stoppard. This is a very short work, fewer than 100 pages long. But it is full of great humor and insights about love and relationships.
When the play opens, Max and Charlotte are having a discussion about Charlotte’s recent trip to Amsterdam. It becomes evident to Max that Charlotte never went on any trip and it was all just a cover to have a clandestine rendezvous with her lover. Max commends Charlotte for making the trip seem as authentic as possible by bringing back souvenirs for her mother. We soon realize that the scene between Max and Charlotte are not really married but were acting in a play that was written by Charlotte’s husband, Henry.
Stoppard plays quite a bit with drama and reality and oftentimes blurs the distinctions between the two as I noted in the first scene. We learn that Charlotte and Henry’s relationship, much like that of Charlotte and Max’s onstage relationship, has its issues. After Henry and Charlotte separate and marry other people, Henry makes an interesting observation about commitment; he believes that many people say they are committed in a relationship and never give it a second thought. But for a relationship to succeed, both parties involved must renew their commitment on a daily basis. He concludes, very astutely, that there are no real commitments but bargains that are constantly being made between lovers.
The characters in the play are flawed and are trying, like everyone else, to figure out what love is and to find long-lasting love. They deal with their relationship issues with humor but also with golden nuggets of wisdom that they have learned through experience. One of my favorite speeches in the play is given by Henry to his young daughter about love. He uses the Biblical Greek word “to know” in his definition; “to know” someone in a carnal sense is a euphemism in the Bible but Henry feels that it is a fitting definition for love because it is through the flesh that we allow one special person to truly know us like no other.
THE REAL THING is a quick yet thought-provoking read. If you want to add more drama to your reading lists then I highly recommend it. This play has also made me want to explore more of Stoppard’s works.
About The Author:
Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL (born Tomáš Straussler; 3 July 1937) is a British playwright, knighted in 1997. He has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, finding prominence with plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House, and Shakespeare in Love, and has received one Academy Award and four Tony Awards. Themes of human rights, censorship and political freedom pervade his work along with exploration of linguistics and philosophy. Stoppard has been a key playwright of the National Theatre and is one of the most internationally performed dramatists of his generation.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard left as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946. After being educated at schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, Stoppard became a journalist, a drama critic and then, in 1960, a playwright. He has been married three times, to Josie Ingle (m. 1965), then Miriam Stoppard (m. 1972), and Sabrina Guinness (m. 2014).