A Fair of Affairs: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's "The Real Thing" is all about the dangerous game of love


Actors sitting on a couch. Chris Grimm (Henry), Kara Williams (Charlotte), Manny Abascal Jr. (Max), and Sara Long (Annie) in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Real Thing.

Four scores: Chris Grimm (Henry), Kara Williams (Charlotte), Manny Abascal Jr. (Max), and Sara Long (Annie) tend to affairs of the heart in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Real Thing. Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

A typical Tom Stoppard play features a whole lot of words just to get to a basic point. It can be intellectually stimulating—or a wee bit draggy if you're looking for more action on stage.

But the high-energy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of Stoppard's The Real Thing that opened last Friday to a sold-out crowd flows at an excellent pace thanks to director David Widmayer and grips your attention throughout.

The play is set in 1980s London and focuses on two couples. Henry (Chris Grimm) is a playwright married to Charlotte (Kara Williams), an actress who frequently stars in Henry’s shows, including his current piece, House of Cards. They are good friends with Annie (Sara Long) and her husband Max (Manny Abascal Jr.), who is also an actor and starring in House of Cards with Charlotte. 

The four meet for drinks at Henry and Charlotte’s house to discuss his play. Charlotte is not happy with her role, stating the women in the show are not nearly as developed as the male characters. Annie goes on to talk about how she is very dedicated to helping a man named Brodie (Cam Robinson), a soldier who is in prison because he set fire to a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. He is labeled an arsonist but Annie is convinced it was a political protest.

Henry makes fun of Annie but when the two of them are alone it is revealed that they are having an affair. She tells him to meet her in her car later after he picks up his daughter Debbie (Lauren Olson) from riding lessons. 

Later, Max discovers Henry’s handkerchief in their car and Annie comes clean about the affair. She leaves Max and Henry leaves Charlotte so they can be together. Henry tries to write a play about how much he loves Annie, but he has trouble finding the words. 

The Real Thing then skips ahead two years and Henry still hasn’t finished his play about Annie. Annie asks Henry to ghostwrite a play for Brodie, even though Henry doesn’t agree with any of his political or world views. Henry accuses Annie of having romantic feelings toward Brodie, which greatly upsets her. 

Annie is cast in a production of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, but the show is in Glasgow so she must be away from Henry for a while. While she is gone, Henry visits Charlotte and Debbie. Debbie, who is a teenager, claims that monogamy is archaic and Charlotte goes on to explain that she had multiple affairs while married to Henry. The difference between what she did and what Henry did is that Henry was romantic with his affair, while her infidelities were only for fun.

An insecure Henry goes back to his apartment and searches for any sign of her cheating on him. When he is finally able to talk to her, she admits she is having an emotional affair with Billy (Cem Özil), her young costar. She insists it is nothing physical and she’s not willing to give up him or Henry. Henry reluctantly agrees but when Annie and Billy end their “relationship,” things are noticeably different between her and Henry. 

Brodie is released from prison and visits Annie and Henry. Through heated conversation it is revealed that Annie always visited Brodie in prison because she felt guilt about him being there. Turns out, he committed his crime to impress Annie. Annie eventually throws Brodie out of the house and she ends up back in love with Henry. To wrap up the happy ending, Max calls Henry and tells him he is engaged. 

Williams is fantastic as Charlotte; she’s a natural on stage and does an excellent job of being equal parts snarky and endearing. Her ease of acting is great. Long is a fun Annie, full of passion and vivacity on stage.

Grimm does a nice job portraying Henry, with the character being somewhat autobiographic of Stoppard. The role itself is a tad "woe is me" but Grimm still gives the character lots of vulnerability and redeeming moments.

The minimal set lets the audience focus on the acting, which as an ensemble was very strong.

Producing a Stoppard play that is compelling for folks who aren't into so much talky-talk is no easy feat, but Ann Arbor Civic Theatre did a wonderful job with this production. 

Marley Boone is a theater professional who has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she wrote theater reviews for DC Metro Arts.

“The Real Thing“ runs December 8-17 at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, 322 West Ann Street, Ann Arbor. For more information and tickets, visit a2ct.org.


My question is do any of these theatre troupes get upset that the reviewer spoils the *entire* plot of their show in their reviews? I always feel like I don't have to go see them after reading. Congrats to AACT.

Thanks for asking. While we’ve never received this feedback from any theater company before, we will take this feedback into consideration for future reviews. We appreciate your readership and support of Pulp.