? DLROW LAER EHT / \ THE REAL WORLD ?
In dreams we do so many things / we set aside the rules we know / and fly the world so high / in great and shining rings / if only we could always live in dreams / if only we could make of life what, in dreams, it seems
the real world (lyric)
Should or can playwrights truly "write what they know"? If they use their family members as characters in a play, whose play is it? Whose truth is it? And what happens when those family members stand up to their artist son and object to their theatrical selves? The Real World? remains a groundbreaking play about art, autobiography and authority.
All through the current Tarragon theatre production of Michel Tremblay’s explosive 1980’s masterpiece The Real World? I kept thinking of the song of the same name, made famous by Roy Orbison, and how hauntingly beautiful the words and voice sounded to me when I first heard them so many years ago. Similarly, Tremblay’s play, over twenty years after its English language premiere, possesses a gorgeous, eerie intensity that throws a violent, stylized light upon some of the greatest taboos life has to offer.
Richard Rose’s direction goes full tilt as the staging, the set, the special effects and the performances create a truly dangerous atmosphere that proceeds to lay bare every emotion the characters have kept bottled up for years. A standout performance by Cliff Saunders as the meta-theatrical dad leaves one breathless during the impeccably choreographed final moments, matched by brilliant performances by the entire ensemble throughout this harrowing ninety-minute tour de force.
Meg Tilly delivers a mesmerizing performance, alongside Jane Spidell’s sharply focused and powerful portrayal of a woman cunningly trapped within dramas skillfully manipulated in order to maintain her grasp on a life she tries desperately to hold together. Matthew Edison as the writer and Tony Nappo as the father play off each other with impeccable timing and contrasting power as the strained familial unit trying to come to grips with a past that appears so different to all of the people who experienced it - together and apart. Sophie Goulet and Cara Gee as the bouncy go-go dancing daughter are superb as they hover over the action with an energetic detachment that moves gradually into controlled, full frontal emotion - aided by lively, detailed costumes by Charlotte Dean, giving the overall piece a kind of provocative nostalgic air.
Tremblay’s use of a play within a play, with a meta-theatrical twist, exposes memory as a fractured device both onstage and off. The Tarragon production does justice to this dynamic familial journey through the use of a kind of exploded naturalism that leaves one gasping for breath at the end of each character’s tigtly structured moment of monologic catharsis.
There are no small parts in this four character eight actor rapid-fire showcase for profound dysfunction as the audience is left with a dizzying sense of truth and fiction that provides no easy answers to some very painful questions.
The Real World?, a quarter of a century later, continues to provide a powerful interrogation of how we sometimes tend to create a past and a present that are often at war with each other as we search for some kind of terribly imperfect truce - or lack thereof.
THE REAL WORLD RUNS AT TARRAGON THEATRE UNTIL JUNE 3RD