Politics define (and sometimes overwhelm) David Hare’s dramas. But in the knighted British playwright’s 1995 work Skylight they’re so intricately woven into an intimate love story that they sneak up on you when you least expect them. That’s also because in Stephen Daldry’s firmly realized Broadway revival (a transfer from London), master actors like Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan turn in honestly revealing portraits as two people whose affair first solidified then destroyed a family.
The play takes place during a long night’s journey into morning, in the London flat of Kyra Hollis (Mulligan), a young woman who has devoted herself to teaching underprivileged students for the past three years. Previously she worked for Tom Sergeant (Nighy), an upscale restaurateur decades her senior, with whom she had a lengthy secret affair while living with him and his family. When his wife, who has since died of cancer, discovered their liaison, Kyra left and cut off all contact with them. (The title comes from the skylight Tom installed above the bed of his wife to comfort her as she lay dying, and the play, set in the early 1990s, contains nostalgic references to things like the yellow pages and specialty music stores.)
Judging by the way Kyra lives — in a bleak one-room apartment clear across London from the equally bleak neighborhood where she works — she seems to be punishing herself for her past transgression. But Kyra’s the only one unable to forgive herself. Edward (Matthew Beard), Tom’s 18-year-old son, visits her in the first scene and informs her that his parents “were always closer when you were there.”
Soon after, Tom shows up, and for most of the rest of this nearly two-and-a-half-hour play they recount the past and ponder the future. Nighy, probably best known on these shores for his roles in films like Love Actually and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, puts his lanky body to good use in a performance that’s rich in emotion and idiosyncrasies, prancing across the stage and moving around Kyra’s furniture with a slight kick. Mulligan’s performance is more restrained but no less effective. She wrings great potency from Kyra’s second-act speech about why she teaches disadvantaged youths instead of trying to get a position at a university, revealing her fear as much as her determination in the process.
Neither Tom nor Kyra is a polarizing figure; Hare gives both their share of virtues and vices. Yet it’s impossible not to recognize the social factions they represent, and their inability to find common ground can be seen as a sad testament to America’s current political divisiveness. But not Hare’s play. Twenty years on, Skylight remains as smart, stirring and knotty as the characters it depicts.
By Diane Snyder
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Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan, Matthew Beard
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/13/2015
John Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036