David Hare, one of Great Britain’s most acclaimed playwrights, is known for juggling the personal and the political in his works.
That balancing act is particularly evident in his 1995 drama Skylight, a reunion of two former lovers from opposite sides of the political spectrum, being revived by Palm Beach Dramaworks beginning Friday.
Although set in the days following the Margaret Thatcher era, director Vanessa Morosco (last seen in PBD’s The House of Blue Leaves) says theatergoers need not be concerned if they are not up on British politics of a quarter century ago.
“I think we’re in a world where our political conversations are increasingly becoming global,” she notes. “So I would say that the content of some of the political arguments, the details of them, may or may not be immediately resonant to the audience, but I don’t think it gets in the way of any of the conversations we have onstage.
“I think it’s very reflective of all the complex conversations we would have then and now. In fact, I think if this play were written right now, perhaps the particular topics of post-Thatcher 1990s Britain, the conversation today would probably be about Brexit,” says Morosco. “If some of those little tiny details were changed, I almost feel like David Hare could have written this play yesterday.”
Skylight centers on successful restaurateur Tom Sergeant (Peter Simon Hilton of PBD’s Arcadia and Equus), who had an affair with the much younger Kyra Hollis (Sarah Street, making her PBD debut), a former employee of his. It broke up when his wife learned of their relationship. Now, following his wife’s death, Tom returns unexpectedly to Kyra’s apartment in an attempt to rekindle what they once had together.
The personal gulf between them is widened by their political divide. He is a Thatcherite conservative, which she – an impoverished teacher of underprivileged children – is staunchly liberal. Over the course of a single evening, they lay bare past hurts and discuss love and death, grief and betrayal, as well as social and political issues.
That may sound heady and heavy, but as Hilton says, “Hare is incredibly accessible. It feels like a real conversation in real time, so you can understand absolutely everything we are saying.”
As Street agrees, “Hare has creates two intelligent, articulate characters, so coming into it and not having particularly a knowledge of British politics, you’re still going to totally understand it, because of the way it is written and laid out for you.”
Although Hare is well known for his liberal views, he gives equal weight to Tom and Kyra’s arguments, moving the audience to change their sympathies between the characters throughout the play.
Street too kept switching her allegiances on her first exposure to Skylight. “I found myself reading this play and advocating for both of them at different points of the argument,” she says. “They’re frustratingly almost perfect for each other, but they just can’t seem to bridge that gulf between them and their viewpoints. It’s just so relatable. That’s what draws us in, you fall in love with these people and then the politics just unfold for you. You never at any point feel like you’re being preached to by a playwright.”
“Part of what motivated David Hare to write this script, in the 1990s he experienced an extraordinary change in his romantic life for the better. He’s now married to the woman he fell in love with,” explains Morosco. “Her previous partner had been in business. Hare became incredibly fascinated by not only the aspects of business but the players that were involved in being incredibly successful in business. And he started to realize that as a theater practitioner we often have very little access to their conversations. So part of what fascinated him was to explore what affects their point of view and how he might represent that, using his skill set of theater.”
The play is very conversational, and Tom and Kyra are both highly articulate speakers. “They say exactly what they mean and they have a history of having difficult conversations. Tom says they would ‘talk the stars down from the skies.’ It was part of who they were as lovers,” says Hilton. “I feel that the tragedy of it is that these people feel this great love that has been severed by circumstance. And then when they try to repair that, they are incapable. That’s where the tragedy lies.”
But Skylight is hardly all talk. “There’s a very ordinary thing that happens onstage which is actually an extraordinary thing in the theater.” Morosco notes. “During the course of this play, which has all these expansive views and great passion and humor, they cook a full meal of spaghetti.
“One of the things I love about that variable is that spaghetti – no matter what I say to it – won’t follow its blocking. Water has to boil, the pasta has to cook, the timing is crucial. If the spaghetti doesn’t behave properly, we can’t just edit that out or do a retake. To me, that is one of the most exciting things.”
“And also there’s the aroma of the meal,” adds Hilton. “That just sort of grounds everybody, it stops you from sitting in the theater thinking, ‘I’m watching an intellectual play about people talking of big ideas.’ You’re in the room with them, you can smell the spaghetti, everything happens in real time.”
Chances are that theatergoers will leave Dramaworks hungry for spaghetti. Morosco also hopes they will also have their heads full of questions. “I hope that they will go out with more questions than answers,” she says. “I think what David Hare has done in creating this extraordinary play, he asks the question, ‘Can great love be the solution to opposing viewpoints?’
“I don’t think he is so obvious as to give us an answer to that. But I think what he reveals is that we all have this human hope that it is the solution.”
SKYLIGHT, Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Friday, Feb. 7-Sunday, March 1. $77. 561-514-4042 or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.