New York City Theater
There they stand on stage, only a few feet apart in reality but miles from each other symbolically, trying to bridge the chasm between them with affection and at least a modicum of polite disagreement. They’re Kyra and Tom, onetime lovers, now estranged and at opposite ends of belief in David Hare’s 1995 chamber drama, “Skylight,” given a stinging revival with the terrific Carey Mulligan as the late 20-ish Kyra, the jittery Bill Nighy as the 60-ish Tom and the fine Matthew Beard as an adrift but caring youth.
Kyra ended their six year affair when Tom’s wife found out. That was three years ago and, now, one year since his wife died, Tom wants nothing less than to re-start the relationship. As fraught as the romance was, it is nothing compared with the incendiary political discussions and accusations that spice the second act of “Skylight.”
This should come as no surprise. In “Plenty,” “Pravda,” “Racing Demon,” “Stuff Happens” and others, Hare eviscerates the English establishment. Yes, plays like “Amy’s View,” “The Blue Room” and “The Judas Kiss’” are less overtly political, but Hare’s left-wing beliefs are never far from surfacing.
In “Skylight,” Tom, a restauranteur, stands for capitalism’s indifference towards idealists who, like Kyra, choose to live and work in less desirable neighborhoods. For her, satisfaction comes from teaching at an inner-city school where, if you’re lucky, you may influence even one student to better himself.
For someone like Tom, ideals are expendable. Not that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; Tom came up the hard way. Now unthreatened and confident about his position, he can bully others and condescend to their choices. ”You did not consult me,” he says. “You made a decision which I never approved.”
Hare’s sympathy is with Kyra, but he gives Tom cogent arguments against a world where “Language belongs to the past. . . . Bang! Splat! Spit out your venom and go.” For Tom, people are objects; for Kyra, they’re to be respected.
Tricky as this pas de deux is, it’s maintained by Mulligan and Nighy with intriguing variations. Her reticence is balanced by his ability to talk his way around every crisis. They make the evening come alive with their jousting, with Mulligan’s strong and open-hearted acting resulting in one of the season’s best performances.
Directed with his usual feel for characterizations, Stephen Daldry is a master at pinpointing revelatory moments. Bob Crowley’s set is claustrophobic, yet suggestive of ordinary lives beyond this flat, abetted by Paul Arditti’s skillful sound design. “What extraordinary courage, what perseverance people need just to get on with their lives,” says Kyra. To which Tom replies, “Huh.” Tom may not get it, but audiences will.
--David A. Rosenberg
April 14, 2015