Wednesday, May 27, 2015

David Hare's "Skylight" on Broadway

Last Wednesday Don and I left our hotel in Massachusetts in forty degree weather and headed to the Amtrak station in Hudson, New York. We had not packed for such a blustery day. The thirteen block hike from Penn Station to the John Golden Theatre brought tears to my eyes. Bill Nighy! What we did for you!

I've been a fan since I saw him - five times - in "Love Actually." Then we discovered "The Worricker Trilogy," a fun little BBC espionage series. Now we just check IMDB and go down the list ordering everything that he's in. We were primed to love "Skylight" having read the outstanding reviews and paid the sinfully high price of the tickets. What we weren't quite prepared for was to look at each other after the play and say "what did we just witness?"

All the way home we tried to analyze the play, in its third iteration by the way, having been mounted on the London stage twice before this rendition. Was it a political screed? A romance? One review I found stated that Hare was writing about the aftermath of the Margaret Thatcher administration and its disastrous effects on so many Brits. The divide between the 1% and everyone else came early to Great Britain. Perhaps now was the perfect time for the play to find its way to the United States and why it resonates so well with audiences here.

It certainly is a marvel to watch two renowned professionals plying their craft. Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan were each outstanding in their own very divergent ways. However I felt as if each was performing a monologue, playing to the audience rather than to each other. The two characters (and actors) Tom and Kyra, are probably more than thirty years apart in age so it pushed the envelope to try to imagine them as lovers of six years, torn apart when discovered by Tom's wife, who was also Kyra's best friend.

Of course, it's much more complicated than that. At various points during the play, audience allegiances shift from Kyra to Tom and back again as the actors reminisce, cry, rant, and try to regain a connection that maybe wasn't that strong in the first place. Now that Tom's wife has died of cancer, he seems torn between grief over the loss, and anger that she denied him the forgiveness he craved since his betrayal with Kyra.

Kyra, on the other hand, implies that the love affair, for her, was with Tom's whole family and not simply with Tom himself. When she says he's the only man she's every loved, she does not speak with conviction. A flaw in the writing or just in the star's interactions? I'm not sure.

Nighy, as the wealthy, high strung, type A restaurant owner is like a stalking lion, all over the stage, as he berates Kyra for not living up to her potential, by which he means, not becoming the woman he could love in the clear light of day. She has subsumed herself in guilt, eschewing all the luxuries Tom could have offered for the life of a broke teacher, living in an aggressively ragged one-room sublet on the wrong side of London, where she struggles to identify one or two bright students that she can encourage and mother, out of the classroom full of kids who will never be able to drag themselves out of hunger and poverty.

The tension that builds between the two begins to feel less sexual and more parental as Nighy, in frustration, lunges for the homework booklets that Kyra was grading when he abruptly entered her apartment. As he shoves over furniture and strews the precious work of the young students across the room, the audience recognizes that this pair will never be able to repair the rift. And a disconcerting yet powerful afternoon at the theatre came to an end. Now, if I could just understand the symbolism of the skylight. 

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