Showing posts with label David Hare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Hare. Show all posts

Sunday, February 9, 2020

‘Skylight’ Illuminates Stirring Schisms at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of David Hare’s Skylight proves that in the hands of an experienced theatre company with outstanding actors and directing, an award winning play from more than 20 years ago can be polished into one as relevant as the day it first came to the stage.

In an NPR interview Hare summed up his unique perspective on his writing which is clearly evident in Skylight: “I've always written plays in which social forces and historical forces are blowing through the room and affecting how the people feel and think. And this is, if you like, crudely, a Shakespearean approach to playwriting where you're always trying to show the way social and historical forces change individuals.”

Hare has been considered a modern day successor to the “angry young men” of British playwrights and novelists of the mid to latter 20th century who looked towards changing society.  In particular Skylight has class issues as a subtext of a real life relationship conundrum.  Vanessa Morosco, the director of Skylight, finds that sweet spot in the humor and the painful pauses of Hare’s pointed dialogue.

The action transpires in the dingy freezing flat of the main character, Kyra Hollis, played with steely coolness by Sarah Street, her PBD debut.  While all characters in this play are grieving and guilt-ridden, she has deliberately chosen a life without any extra benefits whatsoever.  Although fully acquiescent to her deprivations, her life now is a form of penitence without self pity.  She no longer pines for the arms of her lover of six years, a wealthy married restaurateur, Tom Sergeant, played by PBD veteran Peter Simon Hilton.

Sarah Street, Harrison Bryan
Photo by Tim Stepien
Hare uses a third character, Tom’s 18 year old son, Edward, performed by Harrison Bryan, his PBD debut, to set up the story at the opening and to provide some closure at the end.  Essentially, Kyra had become part of the Sergeant’s family.  She worked in the restaurant, but also on occasion looked after the couple’s son, all the while having a clandestine affair with Tom.  When Alice learned of the affair, Kyra made a hasty exit and had not seen Tom or Edward in the past three years.  Alice later died of cancer.  Then a year after Alice’s death, the Sergeant men descend upon Kyra, coincidentally neither knowing the other had been to see her.

Imagine the permutations ripe for guilt, recriminations, anger, and perhaps even a possible reconciliation in this trifecta of relationships, particularly in the hands of a playwright who is known for forceful acerbic dialogue.  Morosco makes sure that that comes through as a sparring match, a fast-moving chess game being played to stalemate.  And yet supposedly there is love still between Kyra and Tom.  And even between all the other characters, a bond of love that once broken ended up shattering everyone’s life.

Peter Simon Hilton, Sarah Street
 Photo by Tim Stepien
 That class problem -- the constant struggle of the haves and have-nots -- lives within this story of love and loss and finally emerges with all the pent-up recriminations.  The repartee between Kyra and Tom  shifts gears quickly, one feeling he or she has the upper hand, sometimes with explosive anger, and suddenly a beat, as the point lands home, only to find a complete reversal as the other counters. 

Peter Simon Hilton effectively expresses Tom’s challenge, coming on strong with a swaggering superiority, wanting Kyra back, but on his terms.  He certainly has the means to offer her the comfortable life they once shared, but she ultimately rejects that in face of the sacrifice she has willingly chosen, to live frugally, to teach totally disadvantaged children and live an acetic life.  He deals with this rejection with a momentary breakdown showing his vulnerability.  His self assurance but a disguise.

And just as clearly, his character takes pride in being a bit of a raconteur.  Hilton’s performance is a master class of contradictions, ambivalence, patronizing, and at the heart of it all, guilt, of losing Kyra and Alice’s dying, saying she used her death as a way of punishing me.  It’s all about him.  Tom still loves Kyra, but it is based on trying to change her.  Hilton knows how to effectively deliver the comic line, so important in this weighty play.

Sarah Street, Peter Simon Hilton Photo by Tim Stepien
Street is particularly effective in delivering her barbed accusations with pauses to watch Tom’s reactions and to allow them to sink in with the audience.  In a sense, all characters, including the off stage, now deceased Alice, were or are dependent on the rock steadiness of Kyra.  Sarah Street has careful command, while admitting to the ultimate vulnerability, her love for Tom (still), but her need to live her own life, without him.

Edward is played by Harrison Bryan with brimming over the top adolescent angst, clearly an angry teenager who is seeking help to deal with his father.  Bryan displays good comic chops and a borderline hyperactive impulsivity.  He is in disarray, his dress disheveled as is his personality, his shirttail hanging out, an excellent impression of the typical confused and outraged teenager.

Street actually cooks spaghetti sauce on stage left, chopping the ingredients, pouring the oil, etc.  At a certain point, the aroma reaches the audience, particularly the onions.  I thought it was an interesting touch by Hare and so effectively managed by the director.  Unfortunately, a good part of the play also takes place in the kitchen area and dialogue was sometimes unclear on the other side of the audience, stage right.  It’s one of my pet peeves, the director sacrificing (albeit unintentionally) the clear delivery of dialogue for a sense of realism on stage.

Also, although philosophically the themes resonate, I never felt the production or the playwright touched the inner core of true love which both Kyra and Tom profess; their true love is verbal sparring.  Hare clearly makes the choice of emphasizing, particularly in Act II, the “social forces blowing through the room.”

The scenic design by Bill Clarke is in keeping with the dark issues of the play, the dingy flat, books and rock posters of a 1990s intellectual nonconformist.  It is frigid there, so a space heater and heavy conversation is indeed needed to heat things up.

Costume design is by Brian O’Keefe, ranging from Sarah Street’s woolens, to Harrison Bryan’s student garb of the early 1990s to Peter Simon Hilton’s contrasting business attire, a wool suit, with vest and suspenders.  Lighting design is by Donald Edmund Thomas, again emphasizing the muted darkness, with lamps here and there and clearly some outside lights through the vaulted, but old windows through which we can see snow in the second act.  The sound design by Roger Arnold (his PBD debut) consists of some heavy metal music for scene changes, again, reminiscent of the era.

This play may not be emotive as a true love story, but it is packed with memorable dialogue and philosophical issues which still resonate today. 


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Dramaworks to Stage Highly Charged ‘Skylight’ by David Hare

Peter Simon Hilton, Sarah Street, Harrison Bryan Photo by Tim Stepien

As Skylight’s Director, Vanessa Morosco said “then it was Margaret Thatcher’s day, now it would be Brexit, but it could be anytime.”  Although class divisiveness is near the heart of Skylight, nearer still is how life, love and loss happens, and Hare's highly acclaimed work will soon to unfold on the Palm Beach Dramaworks stage.

One could describe it as a sharp-witted tragicomedy, as Tom Sergeant, a wealthy, middle-aged restaurateur, unexpectedly arrives at the apartment of the much younger Kyra Hollis, his former employee and ex-lover, a year after Tom’s wife’s death. Tom and Kyra had a long relationship until Tom’s wife discovered it.  After the discovery, Kyra walked out, and now teaches underprivileged children and chooses to live in poverty, incomprehensible to Tom.  Can incompatible values and opposing worldviews be bridged if the passion remains?  The entire action happens one night in Kyra’s apartment, bookended by a visit from Tom’s 18 year old son, Edward.

English playwright Sir David Hare’s barbed language leaves no prisoners, and no winners or losers.  Morosco neatly sums it up: “although there are political implications the play isn’t preachy and that aspect can be as subtle as its humor.  It’s there for the audience to interpret.  In fact it is the sort of play where the audience may leave with questions, and that is good.  All characters have some semblance of guilt, are grieving in some way, yet life goes on, for them and for us.”

If the name Vanessa Morosco sounds familiar, she’s acted in two PBD past productions, Arcadia, and House of Blue Leaves.  But this is not her first directorial effort, having directed Shakespeare’s Henry V .  Her husband Peter Simon Hilton was in that production and in fact this is their 15th collaboration, acting with each other.  Hilton plays the complex role of Tom Sergeant, and when asked about his wife directing him, he said “Vanessa has a generosity of spirit and alacrity of thinking, the speed by which she can make me as an actor and other actors feel safe is remarkable – she knows how to look after you.”

Morosco was electric with energy and insight during the interview, clearly a smart director for a smart play.  She added “in directing this play, it helps to have such a talented cast.  And my job is for them to succeed by balancing the complexity of the play, the class struggle, the language, the humor, which makes these characters seem so real, and the political divisiveness still so current.”

Knowing the actor Bill Nighy is closely identified with Hare’s work and in fact played Tom in the most recent Broadway revival, I asked Hilton about the comparison: “There are so many layers in the play I don’t feel it should be necessarily associated with anyone and I feel free to delve into it with my own interpretation.  Furthermore, my character has a very direct way of talking about complicated ideas, and I like playing a role such as this, one that doesn’t necessarily adhere to accepted norms of communication – Tom finds his own way of communicating.”

Sarah Street, a NYC based actor, is making her PBD debut as Kyra.  “I love playing this role, because of the script, and the cast and director.  I think Kyra has created her own isolated world, having lived a dream her entire life not realizing how real people live.   After her relationship with Tom she develops a deep respect for ordinary people and a distrust of rich people who feel they should be praised for their good fortune.  I really enjoy delivering Hare’s language, so striking and acerbic -- this is how real people speak.”

The role of Tom’s son, Edward, is played by another NYC based actor, also making his PBD debut, Harrison Bryan.  “Even though my role,” says Bryan, “is in service of a larger story, it is so important to set up the story and is part of the resolution, coming back in the last scene with a measure of remorse and maturity.”  Bryan amusingly recounted one of his favorite lines in the play, but one that is said by Tom about Edward expressing generational issues to Kyra: “I mean, he gives the external signs [of life].  He eats.  He tries to spend all my money.  What can you say except he’s eighteen?”  And he sees Hare’s use of British curse words very Shakespearean in nature, such as his line about his father: “Dad is a fuckpig.”

As one can see, comedy is deeply embedded in this serious tale of remorse, love and loss, and class struggle.

Skylight received its world premiere at England’s National Theatre in 1995, and then moved on to the West End and Broadway.  It was the winner of the 1996 Olivier Award for Best New Play.  In 2014, Stephen Daldry directed a new West End production that starred Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy which came to Broadway in 2015 and received a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Dramaworks’ production of this classic runs from February 7 to March 1 at the Don and Ann Brown Theatre in West Palm Beach.