BACK STAGE WEST
September 25, 1997
at the Mark Taper Forum
Reviewed by Rob Kendt
No doubt David Hare's plays resonate in Britain with an immediacy we can only guess at over here. But his penetrating but generous vision also speaks with remarkable clarity to American audiences; his passions and struggles seem every bit our own, only with a different accent and better diction. Indeed, in director Robert Egan's urgently entertaining, unexpectedly moving new West Coast premiere production, Hare's Skylight feels typically English only in its voice and its rhetoric, not its concerns.
It's a testament to Hare's mature craft as a showman that while Skylight puts his twin preoccupations--roughly stated, politics and sex--through as torturous a three-hour wringer as ever, the time flies breathtakingly by. That's in part because the play, and Egan's production, perfectly capture the weird, desperate timelessness of an unplanned, long-overdue late-night meeting between former lovers.
We sense almost immediately that the reunion of Kyra, a liberal ghetto schoolteacher (Laila Robins), and the charmingly vulgar nouveau riche restaurateur, Tom (Brian Cox), whom she left three years before, is the sort of pivotal heart-to-heart that becomes a test case for human communication, poised as it is here between an almost unbearable significance and a distracting familiarity.
Both Tom and Kyra are easily reducible to their politics--indeed, they try vainly to do as much to each other--but there's a lot more going on here than even the play's necessarily drawn-out exposition tells us. What's ultimately so shattering about Skylight, as in the best of Hare's work, is that it looks unblinkingly at the dislocation between our most private choices and our public responsibilities and reminds us that these are centrally emotional questions, as nitty-gritty--and as powerfully irrational--as whom we love and how we spend our days.
Robins and Cox execute their characters' uneasy sexual choreography with magisterial, unsentimental soulfulness. A faintly comical-looking couple (she's half a head taller than he), they create a heartbreakingly haunted double portrait: We see the ghost of the romance between a pretty young girl and an ambitious older man through their newer, wiser, hollower selves. Michael Hall kicks at the corners of his small role as Tom's spoiled teenage son, but that's right for the part.
David Jenkins' set of Kyra's unheated flat, and Michael Gilliam's chilly verite lighting, actually make us feel a little shiver, and Marianna Elliott's costumes look similarly lived-in. Above all, the production seems a ripe vindication for the uneven Egan. Hare's beautifully troubled marriage of passion and intellect are a perfect fit for him, and he's risen to the challenge with bracing ideas and emotion of his own.
"Skylight," presented by the Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles. Sept. 18-Oct. 26. (213) 628-2772.