With British playwright David Hare, we are rarely far removed from political debate. But with his justifiably acclaimed 1995 play Skylight, the political merges deftly with the personal, a head trip grafted onto an emotional tug-of-war, as two former lovers attempt to rekindle what they once had together from the ashes of an affair gone cold.
Tom and Kyra are a study in contrasts. He is a successful restaurateur, wealthy enough to lean politically conservative. She is a polar opposite liberal, a former employee of his who — after they broke up six years ago — took a low-paying job teaching inner city, at-risk students.
On a snowy winter night, Tom arrives at Kyra’s cold, skylit garret, barely able to mask how appalled he is by her living conditions. Still, having become a widower, he seeks a reconciliation with Kyra, his junior by 20 years. As they begin talking at cross-purposes, sifting through the remnants of their once torrid relationship, the gulf between them becomes all too evident.
Tom invites her out to dinner at one of his restaurants, but Kyra had already begun cooking a simple meal of spaghetti on her kitchen hot plate. As the pasta comes to a boil, though, so do their feelings for each other and the first act ends as they head to her bedroom.
But it proves to be a short-lived détente, as their different perspectives on life surface and Kyra demonstrates how much she has changed since growing independent from Tom’s sphere of influence.
Both characters are hyper-articulate and playwright Hare is a master at crafting believable dialogue that brims with intelligence, though at times Tom and Kyra do sound more like political mouthpieces than people.
Perhaps to emphasize the gulf between the two of them, director Vanessa Morosco has her two leads assume very different performance styles. As Tom, Peter Simon Hilton is self-conscious and actorly, pacing the stage like a caged animal, declaiming histrionically. By contrast, at least until Kyra begins to verbally spar back, Sarah Street underplays her hand, projecting an annoyed subservience. We root for them to reconcile, even as it seems increasingly unlikely.
Although Skylight is essentially a two-character play, it is bookended by appearances by Tom’s teenage son Edward (Harrison Bryan), for whom Sarah used to babysit and tutor. His initial entrance seems intended to deliver exposition about his mother’s death and his father’s despondency. But his latter scene is a lovely grace note, as he returns to Kyra with an act of generosity and affection.
Scenic designer Bill Clarke returns to Dramaworks with an eye-catching representation of Kyra’s flat, though it comes off as more cluttered than squalid. Donald Edmund Thomas finesses the lighting challenges the set presents him and Brian O’Keefe does his usual first-rate job of delineating character and social standing with his costumes.
Skylight is on the wordy side and the British accents take time to adjust to, but audiences that lean in and listen will be well rewarded.
SKYLIGHT, Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, March 1. $77. 561-514-4042 or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.