David Hare’s Skylight is an excellent play, one of the best plays written in the last 50 years. Sharply written, multi-layered, beautifully constructed, engaging, and timely, it is a good-humored, entertaining, highly-charged emotional rollercoaster ride of a play.
Director Steve Grumette does us a great favor bringing it to the 805 and giving us a well-crafted professional production with scintillating acting from Anna Kotula as Kyra Hollis and Buddy Wilds as Tom Sargeant, with an admirable debut from Noah Terry as the son.
The other good news is that the Ojai Art Center Theatre has lowered its ticket prices for this season.
Kyra (Anna Kotula) listens to her former lover Tom (Buddy Wilds), who surprised her with a visit trying to reconnect with
The play is not without production challenges, including a working kitchen, but the production staff sails through these. Led by Grumette and Kenny Dahle they have done excellent work getting the set and stage design right, down to the smallest details, even in the wallpaper.
Beautifully structured, the play opens up with an intriguing set-up using a visit by Sargeant’s son to Kyra’s apartment. In the subsequent dialogue we are deftly led into the play’s situation with oblique hints of the fireworks to come.
We can usually depend on a David Hare play delivering at least three things: emotionally engaging dialogue; a play that builds from underlying psychological and political realities to reveal, layer-by-layer, steaming depths within its characters; and excellent plot construction. Skylight delivers all these and more.
Hare creates the kind of multi-dimensional characters a good actor or actress loves to dig into and Kotula and Wilds clearly relish the opportunities to do so. As the play progresses the reality of their situation peals away, layer-by-layer, like an onion, leaving two spent human beings scraping at their core in the final scenes. This is drama at its best and the Ojai production gives the script the quality production it deserves.
Hare has been criticized, mostly on this side of the Atlantic, for his characters going off into political or more philosophical diatribes in the middle of a story arc. London and European critics are more likely to reply, “Yea, and so did Shakespeare, so what else is new in British drama?”
To be fair, Skylight does background the politics and foregrounds the personal drama more than most of his plays, which is why it has always been one of his better received plays on this side of the Atlantic, garnering Tony nominations across the board when it opened on Broadway in 1996 and took the Tony for Best Revival of a Play in 2015.
Kyra (Anna Kotula) is surprised by separate visits by her former lover Tom (Buddy Wilds) and his son Edward (Noah Terry), both
of whom want to reconnect with her. (Photo by Tom Moore)
On top of that, the politics in Skylight are extremely timely, driving at issues underlying our current Presidential election. However, what Hare is interested in is not so much the politics in themselves, but the psychologies that lead to the politics, and how humans cope with the ensuing sociologies. Hare wants us to examine what makes human beings tick and what drives them to do the things they do. Beware, motivations are never too black and white in a Hare play: people do good things for suspect reasons and bad things out of good intentions.
Hare has also been criticized for creating relatively un-sympathetic characters. Others say this leads to one of his strengths: his no-holds barred baring of his characters’ inner selves in all their rawness, honesty, and, yes, even ugliness. Hare usually more than makes up for this ugliness with his terrific dialogue and writing. Like August Wilson’s plays and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night, Skylight reads well as literature, too: the writing is that good. As for sympathetic characters, in Skylight the most sympathetic character in the play never appears on stage: Sargeant’s wife, whose skylight is the skylight of the title.
For Theatre-lovers, Skylight is the kind of play that rewards multiple viewings, if for no other reason than to see how the acting develops around the complexities of Hare’s characters. I, for one, knew I was in for something special when a good dozen lines in the opening scene were interpreted completely differently than I would have taken them. That is one of the beautiful things about David Hare’s writing: it permits of multiple readings and interpretations, line by line, like the best of dramatic literature it gives us some very good meat to chew on, over and over again, if possible.
Skylight by David Hare, directed by Steve Grumette for the Ojai Art Center Theatre
Starring Anna Kotula, Buddy Wilds and Noah Terry.
Produced by Ruby Pronovost, Ezra Eells, and Shed Behar, with set design by Kenny Dahle, lighting and sound design by Grumette, lights and sound by Jerry Montanez, set construction by Dahle, Steve Pronovost, Montanez, set production and props by Sue Barry.
running through 5 June, 7 pm shows Friday and Saturdays, with 2 pm Sunday matinees.
For tickets and reservations call 805.640.8797