By ROBERT HAGELSTEIN
Blogger at lacunaemusing.blogspot.com
Jan. 28, 2020
As “Skylight” 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 is 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, one year after his 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 world views 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 this way: “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 Dramaworks 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 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 says, “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 our interview, clearly a smart director for a smart play. “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,” she says.
Knowing that the actor Bill Nighy is closely identified with Hare’s work and 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,” he says. “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 New York City-based actor, makes her Dramaworks debut as Kyra. “I love playing this role because of the script, the cast and director,” she says. “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 New York City-based actor also making his Dramaworks debut, Harrison Bryan. “Even though my role 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,” says Bryan.
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.
Pictured above: From left, Peter Simon Hilton as Tom Sergeant, Sarah Street as Kyra and Harrison Bryan as Edward Sergeant. Photo by Tim Stepien