Intellectually invigorating and emotionally stimulating, Court Theatre’s presentation of “Skylight” offers the audience an attractive and slightly provocative invitation to reflect on social and moral values and the role that class plays in relationships. Written by David Hare and directed by acclaimed Chicagoan William Brown, the play details the forbidden amorous history between characters Kyra Hollis (Laura Rook) and Tom Sergeant (Philip Earl Johnson), two ex-lovers from different social backgrounds. Saturated with mystery and intrigue, “Skylight” forces the audience to carefully attend to the language of the characters to understand their illicit relationship.
The play is set in Kyra’s meager apartment, a one-bedroom flat in the northwest of London. Kyra is a schoolteacher, but her apartment is in a state with which a typical college student can commiserate: the dining room consists of only a spartan table for two, and the living room has a modest second-hand recliner situated next to a vintage lamp, calling to mind the familiar image of curling up alone to read a book.
Kyra has piles of books with no bookcase, and a fireplace that is incapable of holding fire and producing heat, all of which indicate her modest temperament. Hers is an affable and unpretentious nature, related by Brown’s choice of set. Resembling a dollhouse model and provoking conflicting emotions—similar to those that arise while watching parents quarrel—it draws us into a voyeuristic predicament of receiving both pleasure from entertainment and pain from the characters’ vehement exchanges. The developing themes of neglect and of unfinished business, evident in the sparse surroundings, unvarnished wood, and peeling plaster ceiling, complement the history between Kyra and Tom, lovers for six years in an extramarital affair.
The dialogue includes somewhat crude exchanges, moments of comically witty repartee, and a great deal of emotional, passionate, and heart-wrenching realism. The scenes of heated polemic should stir a burst of empathy from even the most stoic theatergoer by nature of the merciless way the play seeks out the truth from each character. As much as Tom criticizes Kyra in the play’s first half, scolding her for leaving him at the melodramatic moment in his life when Alice, his wife, was dying of cancer, Kyra goes on to expose in Tom his self-pity and social arrogance. Appropriately, each half of the play focuses on one character.
What makes “Skylight” most interesting, however, is the role that social class plays in the couple’s relationship, with Tom and Kyra representing opposing worlds. Tom Sergeant is 50 years old and a wealthy, educated businessman. His personality fits his station in life: stubborn, unyielding, and convinced that money is the ultimate divide. Kyra, on the other hand, a 30-year-old woman who was raised by an impoverished father and with no real family, fights and chooses to suffer to teach underperforming children for little pay.
“Skylight” is a love story, indeed. But, as the play progresses, it begins to increasingly represent the struggle between the values of the wealthy and working classes. Writer David Hare does, however, successfully let the audience sympathize with both characters in “Skylight,” because neither character is wholly without fault. The show is two-hours long, a bit lengthy for a two-person play, and the English accents are not always believable. Unless one considers oneself an English linguistic connoisseur, however, these are minute details that do not detract from the power of a story that is as carefully performed as it was carefully written.
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. Through February 10. Wednesday-Sunday, various times. $15-$45. (773)753-4472. courttheatre.org