Directed by Sean F. Gray, Long Beach Playhouse takes on Tom Stoppard’s engaging exploration of life imitating art in its current production of The Real Thing. The question remains: how do we know when it truly is the real thing?No, we’re not talking about Coca Cola or Memorex – we’re talking about love – the thrill of it, the joy, the drama,the pain and all the other human emotions and complexities that sometimes drudgingly tag along as love’s sidekicks. Stoppard’s self-styled and somewhat autobiographical look at love, intimacy and fidelity places the main focus on the protagonist, British playwright Henry (Noah Wagner), and the two women in his life, Annie (Loren McJannett-Taylor) and Charlotte (Louisa Dienst).Charlotte is an actress who is performing in Henry’s successful new play “House of Cards” along with Henry’s chum, Max (Sean Hesketh).In this play-within-a-play, Charlotte’s character has been unabashedly unfaithful to Max’s character, and in the opening scene, he has a confrontation with her. Charlottesays to Max, “You’ve done everything wrong; there’s a right thing to say if you can think what it is.”In the next scene, Charlotte is very different and she has a different husband- Henry. Eventually, it comes together that the first scene was the actors in the play, and the second is the play’s reality. This may be the beginning of the story, but it is also where the assimilation of life following the blurred lines of literary art comes together. You see, in “real life,” the romantically idealist Henry is having an extramarital affair with Max’s wife, Annie. Max soon figures it out, and Annie leaves Max to be with Henry. Betrayal and infidelity has a mean way of stealing its way into Henry and Annie’s relationship as well.Although this is a very clever play, there is a slight bit of confusion since it is left completely up to the audience to figure out who the characters are inthe Henry’s play and who the characters are in “real life,” and although the set designis elegant and modernly stylish, it doesn’t always provide a clear definition of the parallel storylines as they unfold.As Henry, the suave and charismatic Wagner is undeniably the true heart of LBP’s production and Wagner’s adroit and honest performance is an illustration of a man who fights to remain positive as his own house of cards tumbles down around him.There are many layers to The Real Thing, and records’ playing a variety of music smartly reiterates thoughts and feelings through lyrics such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and The Everly Brothers, “Let It Be Me,” and this creative element reaches all the right notes.LBP’s The Real Thing’s cast is strong and excellent performances are by Sean Hesketh as Max, Louisa Dienst as Charlotte, Noah Wagner as Henry, Loren McJannett-Taylor as Annie, Wilhelm Peterts as Billy,m Amara Phelps as Debbie, and Antony Nash as Brodie. Director: Sean F. Gray; Assistant Director: Sophie Mura; Set Design: Naomi Kasahara; Light Design: Daniel Driskill; Sound Design: Larry Mura; Costume Design: Donna Fritsche. Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage 5021 E. Anaheim Street, Long Beach, CA 90804. For tickets: 562-494-1014. www.lbplayhouse.org Runs through March 28.