FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rob Duval and Kristine Altwies-Nicholson play a husband and wife in a volatile relationship in "The Real Thing," the inaugural performance of the Hawaii Repertory Theatre.
Cast illuminates dark take on love
What is real and what is an illusion? What is the nature of love? Those are the questions on the table in the Hawaii Repertory Theatre's inaugural production of "The Real Thing."
"The Real Thing"
Presented by the Hawaii Repertory Theatre.
When: Continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday at Princess Kawananakoa Auditorium, 49 Funchal St.
Tickets: $22.50, $17.50 seniors, $14.50 students.
Call: 550-8457 or visit www.hawaiireptheatre.org.
Sound levels were challenging at the performance Saturday, but director Susan Key-Young Park's talented cast made the lengthy dramatic journey a thought-provoking experience.
Walter S. Eccles II stars as Henry, an English playwright whose command of the language is matched by his idealistic approach to love. Henry loves words, and he loves his second wife -- loves her enough that he agrees to help rewrite the didactic jail-house work of a self-styled "political prisoner" into a serviceable commercial play.
Eccles becomes the foundation of playwright Tom Stoppard's dark look at love and marriage. Henry is more adept at the art of writing than he is at handling the emotions he describes, and Eccles makes him an interesting and sympathetic leading man even in the scenes where the man's weaknesses become evident.
Kristine Altwies-Nicholson (Annie) makes a welcome return to the local stage in the role of Henry's second wife. Altwies-Nicholson illuminates one early scene with such appeal that Henry's attraction to her seems utterly justified despite the awkward fact that they -- at that moment -- are married to other people. Watching her in later scenes, we see Annie's feelings and needs evolve as her relationship with Henry continues and her expectations change.
Rob Duval (Max) and Eden-Lee Murray (Charlotte) open the show with strong performances in a scene in which a husband confronts his wife with proof that she's having an affair. But we discover in the next scene that Max is married to Annie and Charlotte to Henry, and that two were playing out a scene in one of Henry's plays! The "real life" confrontation between Max and Annie that occurs upon Max's discovery that "art" is in fact mirroring "life" is harsher and less artistic in tone.
Murray can always be counted on for a thorough take on well-written material. Duval smolders as the deceived husband and makes his first local stage performance a memorable one.
Chris Doi (Brodie) is the key player in a later scene when the "political prisoner," newly released, visits the playwright who made over his political manifesto. Doi exudes an aura of menace from the moment he steps into the action and puts the contrast between Brodie and Henry -- working-class tough versus white-collar writer -- in sharp perspective.
Eccles, Doi and Altwies-Nicholson mesh perfectly to give the audience insights into the triangular relationship that Annie and Walter aren't aware of -- Brodie is much more dangerous than Annie realizes, and not quite the semiliterate lout that Henry takes him for, either.
Paul Mitri (Billy) plays the third member of another dangerous triangle with a nicely understated performance as a young actor who catches Annie's eye. Mitri makes sure that Billy registers as either an opportunistic intruder or a convenient ego boost for Annie. The depth of their physical relationship remains enigmatic; Henry confronts Annie with his suspicions, but in the end it is up to him to decide what he wishes to accept as "real."
If there is a lesson or message to shift out of all of Stoppard's beautifully written dialogue, it is found among the background material that director Park includes in the playbill. Love does not survive in a vacuum, and a relationship must be tended and nurtured each day if it is going to endure.