For “The Real Thing” to work, the chemistry between Henry and Annie must be undeniable. As the characters describe it “the insularity of passion ... the way it blurs the distinction between everyone who isn’t one’s lover” is lacking in the interactions between the two leads. When they are around each other, Henry and Annie must crackle.
They seem more like fond roommates or best mates, rather than the kind of lovers who destroy families. Purcell conducts more heat with the other men than she does with Bougere, who is playing the one she claims to be completely devoted to.
Annie seems to be a passive witness to her own life, with a watery delivery and shrugged-out, apologetic choices. But the character as Stoppard has written her is driven. For this character to work, Annie must be the most powerful person on the stage.
Bougere’s Henry is lovely, warm and charming. When he flashes a smile, one understands the power of his charm and wit. One understands his devotion to literature and the purity of the word. But his human connection is the strongest when he is acting opposite Pendergrast’s Charlotte.
This show does not rise to great theater. In a play about love and fidelity, the major flaw of this show is not enough people on stage seem to be particularly smitten with anyone else.
Pendergrast stands out among the cast. There is a solidity and emotional truth she projects that is lacking in the scenes where she is absent.
While the rest of the actors are playing acting, Pendergrast is doing the real thing.