BWW Review: SKYLIGHT is As Much About the State of the Nation as it is About the State of the Heart

SKYLIGHT is a drama by British playwright David Hare. It premiered in London in 1995, played on Broadway in 1996 and was revived in 2015, winning the Tony for Best Revival of a Play. The play also won the 1996 Laurence Olivier Award for Play of the Year. Hare's brutal examination of an extramarital affair gone South, like all of his plays, is unapologetically political. In SKYLIGHT, we see his examination of the Britain that was deeply scarred by Margaret Thatcher. The play, in many ways, mirrors the divide currently happening in this country with our vanishing middle class. It is as much about the state of the nation as it is about the state of the heart.

School teacher Kyra Hollis (Claire Grasso) is visited on the same night by Edward Sargeant (Aaron Johnson) and, later, his father Tom Sargeant (Joe Penrod). Kyra lived with the Sargeant family years earlier but left suddenly when her affair with Tom was discovered by Tom's now deceased wife. Edward has come demanding to know why she left his life. He reveals that he saw her as his big sister, the only figure in his life he felt close to. Shortly after Edward's departure, Tom, a Thatcherite businessman, appears unexpectedly and without apparent reason. As his visit wears on, it becomes clear that Kyra's current lifestyle is a point of contention for Tom. While he begins by merely poking fun at her, he slowly proceeds to berate her to the point of insult, accusing her of self-punishment. Through the course of the play, they examine their relationship, and discover that any chance of rekindling their relationship hinges on whether one of them can change their preconceived notions of the other. Along the way the debate covers social workers and asks the question of whether much-needed services are most often delivered by people who are driven by the need to be useful. Can motive be over-scrutinised?

Essentially, SKYLIGHT is a play examining the gulf between the conservative and the liberal points of view. The Street Corner Arts production, directed by A. Skola Summers, is a high-power dance of debate and recriminations between two exceptional actors. Summers has guided these performers in such a way as to handle Hare's wordier passages with a great naturalness, drawing three exceptional performances from her cast, locking them together in both crystal clear contrast and melancholic harmony with each another. Her eloquent and simple direction is enhanced by Shelby Gebhart's lighting which subtly takes us from night to uncertain morning.

Aaron Johnson delivers a fine performance that bookends the drama, but it is the exceptional performances of Claire Grasso and Joe Penrod that propel it. Joe Penrod gives us an unsavory and completely believable portrait of a successful man of his generation, combining an uneasy physicality with world-weary vocal and facial expressivity that occasionally bursts forth into the rage of non-comprehension. Claire Grasso's performance may be more contained but it is no less compelling. We get the sense in her wary approach that Kyra may have played out this encounter in her head many times. Grasso's stillness and emotional transparency goes naturally between pride and anger as she struggles with liberal guilt.

SKYLIGHT is another sterling example of Street Corner Arts' ability to produce theatre that plumbs the depth of the human condition. However, I do advise the audience to eat first because you can smell dinner being cooked on stage.

SKYLIGHT by David Hare

Running time: Approximately One Hour and 40 Minutes including intermission

SKYLIGHT, produced by Street Corner Arts, at Hyde Park Theatre (511 W. 43rd St, Austin, TX, 78751) December 4-19, 2015. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets: www.streetcornerarts.org or (512) 298-9776.


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From This Author Frank Benge