By David Hare
Directed by Rick Lombardo
At the New Repertory Theater,
Newton Highlands MA, through October 25, 1998

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

The New Rep is to be commended for bringing us "Skylight" so soon after its New York run. David Hare's play shows us adulterers from a fresh perspective, which heaven knows we're in need of it at a time when we are overwhelmed with with the perspective of the the prosecutor and the peeping Tom. The adultery in the play is old news: the guilty pair of successful older man/employer and young female employee/confidant have been parted for years. But the relationship-- like the notorious relationship in the Oval Office-- was one that took place within a context where work and family were intertwined. Hare has loaded his script with the kind of sociological detail that indicates that the characters and their choices are to be seen as symbols or symptoms of larger forces at work,  forces that we ought to understand and observe at work in our own lives and the lives of those around us.  The guilty pair's break up was a momentous event for them, but Hare is insisting that it isn't just a private matter.

In fact,  the author keeps the private part of the lovers' relationship out of his play.   We never find out what the lovers did behind closed doors, even when they go behind a closed door and do it in the middle of the play.  We never learn emotional or physical details that might indicate why it was special and necessary enough to risk destroying everything else that was important to them in order to do it. What's at issue is in the play is a secret love's public significance. At the point where the secret came out, the older man was convinced that the woman's love for him was more important than anything else, and was ready to desert his wife and family in order to continue to enjoy it.  The young woman, on the other hand, saw the revelation of their affair as another kind of revelation-- the revelation of her lover's true character.  He's is not a man to be trusted.  She always knew that he was the sort who would lie to others to get what he wants, and ignore the larger, the long-term implications of what he is doing.  Now she knows that he will lie to himself and to her as well. She runs-- not just away from him but away from everything associated with his life of careless self gratification.  She will  practice altruism among the lower classes, and try as best she can to heal the damage the careless and successful do to everyone else.  Her lover thinks she is more self deluded than he.  He has always done the best he could, the best any man can-- his success is the evidence. Such a man-- a mover and shaker, a hard working and generous risk taker-- deserves a happy ending.  We have two acts in which to imagine what would be-- or what would have been-- a happy ending.

The ground on which this struggle for definition takes place is a cold and shabby flat in a run down part of London. Thirtyish Kyra (L. Rose Liberace), who lives there, commutes by bus across the city to another, even worse, section of London, where she struggles to reach and teach the children of the poor.  On the night the play takes place she has two visitors. First, 18-year-old Edward (Brian McManamon), taking a year off before he begins University, shows up in an agony of embarrassment and need.  The young man has tracked Kyra down to plead with her to talk to her ex-lover, his father, Tom. More than three years after the break-up Tom is still in bad shape,  and he's a bear to live with.  Edward remembers the time when they were all happy, Kyra was part of his family, almost another sister-- from the time Edward was six or seven until he was fifteen, when Kyra suddenly disappeared.  After Kyra was gone nobody was happy.  Then Alice, Edward's mother, was diagnosed with cancer-- which she died of a year ago, after a long illness during which Tom nursed her and did everything he could think of to ease her pain.  Edward says he can't blame his mother for abandoning him by dying, or his older sister for going off to university and making a life of her own.  But Kyra deserted him by choice and without a word, and as Edward sees it she owes it to him to try to make things a bit better than the neglect and rage and pain that he and his father have been fighting their way through since Kyra's desertion and Alice's death.

Kyra resists the boy's plea.  She tells Edward that she's happy to see him, that she would welcome him into her life as a friend, but that friendship with his father became impossible once Alice discovered that Kyra, whom she loved and trusted, was her husband's lover.  Surely Edward can understand?  He doesn't, of course.  All he knows is that the grown-ups did something wrong, and he is being punished for it.  McManamon is very good here, credibly British and typically teen, throwing himself into whatever attitude he hopes may re-establish a connection between them, trying very hard not to try too hard and scare her off.  The boy asks Kyra if she doesn't miss it, the life of luxury and laughter she had when she lived in their house. What Edward wants, of course, is to be told that Kyra misses him and his father, that she did-- and does-- really love them..  But Kyra tells Edward that what she misses most from the old days is "a proper breakfast": a breakfast that is served, with scrambled eggs, and toast wrapped in warm napkins and hot coffee poured from a silver pot. What Liberace lets show here is acknowledged damage, and a stiff upper lip determination not to wallow in it. Kyra the idealist is determined to go about as a realist, and she sends Edward away without rejecting him, exactly, but without offering much support, either.

The next scene opens with a mighty racket at the door as Tom himself (John Fitzgibbon, last season's James Tyrone in "A Moon for the Misbegotten") in appears, determined to whisk Kyra off in his chauffeured limousine to some good restaurant-- one he owns, probably-- where the two of them can have the talk they should have had long before. Tom is appalled at the flat, accusing Kyra of  living in such terrible conditions as a sick form of penance.  Kyra retorts that the conditions aren't so terrible: in fact, this is how most people live.   ( I don't know about "most people", but the set Richard Chambers has designed for the New Rep stage certainly looks like home to me-- cramped quarters with peeling paint, improvised furniture, and arty prints, all dominated by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stuffed to overflowing with second-hand hard covers and dog eared paperbacks.)

Tom seems to be quite penitential himself.  He is still wheeling and dealing, building up his business, but much of the joy has gone out of it now that he has been taken over by a corporation and has to answer to the banks and a board of directors.  He is constantly at odds with his son, who accuses him of inauthenticity, of ordering his life through the Yellow Pages pages rather than living it.  One of the Yellow Pages items is the skylight of the title, an expensive custom made glass roof over Alice's bed in the beautiful new country house Tom had built for his unforgiving wife to die in.  He gave the skylight to Alice so that she could watch the birds from her sickbed, knowing how much she loved watching birds.  For Alice the birds were somehow symbolic of the spiritual-- a word Tom himself can't stand, all goody-goody pretension, but which he knew meant something important and real to his wife.  Tom doesn't sleep well, and he is drinking too much.  He tells Kyra, and himself, that Alice's cancer was just a coincidence, he's not to blame for it.   Tom does blame himself for leaving Alice alone with her pain while he went on unnecessarily extended business trips-- but Alice let him know that his gifts and his attentions were nothing without  his love and loyalty.  Tom alternately displays and denies his guilt and grief, apparently convinced beyond reason that Kyra can kiss it and make it all better.  Kyra stonewalls him until, while she is preparing a modest pot of spaghetti for their , one of Tom's sarcastic digs gets to her and she hurls the pasta at him, and her anger opens the emotional floodgates.  Within minutes, she's in bed with him.

At the beginning of the next scene, Tom's feeling smug.  Fitzgibbon foregoes the opportunity here to make Tom appealingly boyish in his satisfaction, and makes it hard for the audience to empathize with the character, even temporarily.  Fitzgibbon also shouts too much. Converting grief to rage is certainly common: but it's not attractive, and a real mover and shaker knows better than to employ it when he wants to win somebody over.  I think we ought to buy into Tom's argument that the pair belong together for a bit, if only because it is commonly accepted these days that adultery is somehow made right when it is "true love" and is followed up by the offending pair's marriage.  Tom's offered interpretation is that the sex was undeniably good: they've always had that together. If Kyra cut herself off from him completely before, it's a good bet that it was because she knew that she couldn't resist him if she allowed him to get close to her.  She loves him, and if he overcomes her silly scruples and marries her, all the pain they have been through will be justified, will be the what the true lovers had to go through to come to their happy ending.....

Because this is a David Hare play, and not a soap opera, the script insists that characters' temperaments and the moral scenarios they see shaping their lives have a societal dimension.   Entrepreneurial Tom is the hero of a quest plot which is the master narrative of Thacher's business oriented Britain, he is endowed with the constructive energy that is released when feudal barriers tumble.  Kyra, though attracted to that energy, and delighted to be part of Tom and Alice's enterprise in the days when it seemed to be about serving good food to ordinary people, first began to distance herself by going to university when the business became too much about expansion and competition and power. Kyra, sensitive natural socialist that she is, couldn't help but notice that little people are trampled as the big guys race for the top, just as she couldn't hide from herself the damage her love for Tom did to Tom's family, whom she also loved.  Kyra remains determined not to join Tom's fiction that a happy ending is possible.

Hare, however,  holds out a bit of hope, in the form of the next generation.  Edward comes back to the flat the following morning, bringing  Kyra a "proper breakfast" one of his schoolmates has smuggled out the the kitchen of the Ritz for him, silver service and all. Edward's version of his father's affectionate generosity seems to have shaken off the materialist curse.  The boy offers his gift with playful humbleness, playing waiter and peer, until Kyra thaws and accepts him and it.  The play ends with morning light, courtesy of John Malinowski., and healing laughter. Liberace and McManamon play together beautifully here, their mutual warmth casting a retrospective light on just how much of herself Kyra has kept under restraint during the previous scene. We get no other glimpse of Kyra's capacity for delight-- and of course that means that we are unable to judge whether to believe her when she talks about the rewards of teaching the kids society has written off as hopeless, or to credit Tom's worldly cynicism .

In fact, most of the content of this play-- all the issues and attitudes it refers to, the questions it raises-- suffers from the restricted form into which it has been poured: small cast naturalism with the unities of time and place observed..  There is so much backstory to be told, so much sociology to be sketched in, that there is not much room for the characters to affect one another in the present. Nothing really happens, except intellectually, for long stretches.  Director Rick Lombardo has done a good job in varying pace and devising blocking, but he can't compensate for the inherent stasis.  Too much is told, not enough shown. We are denied the opportunity to see for ourselves the similarities and differences between the way Tom and Kyra behave when they are together and the way they interact with others: in a play about the public repercussions of private behavior, isn't that crucial?  Why not let Tom stay the night, and Edward find him there the next morning when he brings the breakfast?  And what about Alice? As they appear on stage, Kyra and Tom seem quite incompatible.   John Fitzgibbon doesn't help much, by giving us a Tom is too given to letting off steam at top volume to be able to establish old bonds with a woman against her will.  But it would help if we were able to see what those bonds were, and how at some point everyone is compatable-- and the most extraordinary and convincing  would be to show the bond that both had with Alice.

Still, it is a geat pleasure to be able to consider this topical subject in company with a well stocked mind and and an educated sensibility, and to be able to come away after two and a half hours of considering it without feeling the need to take a shower.