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“The Real Thing” at the BU Theatre explores the joy and pain of being in love

The Huntington takes on Tom Stoppard’s relationship drama

Henry (Rufus Collins) and Annie (Kate Nowlin) share a tender moment in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of "The Real Thing." Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Actors aren’t the only theater people who are in danger of being typecast. For years, Tom Stoppard was known as a brilliantly comedic wordsmith, but “touching” and “sentimental” are two adjectives that critics never used to describe his plays — until he wrote The Real Thing in 1982.

The Huntington Theatre Company’s current production of The Real Thing explores the joy and pain of being in love and “famously marks the turning point of the critical reception of Stoppard’s plays,” says director Evan Yioulinis. “He was always admired for his language, his ideas, and sometimes for his cleverness. But this play has passion.”

Stoppard, whose witty and provocative dialogue in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead turned him into an overnight success and helped him earn a 1966 Tony Award, was accused of emphasizing ideas at the expense of emotion in his 1970s plays. According to Yioulinis, there is still plenty of cleverness in The Real Thing, and the dialogue sparkles. “It’s a passionate battleground of words and emotions,” she says.

The drama about art and relationships features Henry, a successful playwright, who is married to Charlotte, an actress. Henry has an affair with Annie, another actress — who is married to their playwright friend Max. Their love affair is discovered, leading to the dissolution of both marriages. “The play has a lot to say about what’s real and what’s on stage,” says Yioulinis. “It asks the question, ‘Does life imitate art or is it the other way around?’ ”

The main question in the play, she says, concerns Henry’s attraction to Annie: is it “the real thing”?

Yioulinis, who directed the Huntington’s 36 Views last spring, jumped at the chance to direct The Real Thing when Nicholas Martin, the company’s artistic director, first approached her. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ It’s a contemporary classic, and it has a fantastic cast.”

The Real Thing is at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., through October 9. Student rush tickets for $15 are available two hours before each performance. For tickets and further information, call 617-266-0800 or visit www.huntingtontheatre.org. For information on College Night on Thursday, September 29, click here.