‘90s nostalgia isn’t what it used to be♦
David Hare has never been one to shy away from the hard facts of life. His plays contain a polemical edge, not to say a didactic one. In Skylight, a 1995 work making its belated Philadelphia debut, Hare wraps his social concerns around a quirky domestic drama— or vice versa— with ultimately unsatisfying results.
Tom (Peter DeLaurier) is a self-made businessman of 50 who seeks out his former mistress, Kyra (Genevieve Perrier), with whom he had shared an unacknowledged menage à trois that included wife Alice and son Edward (Ryan Jones). Edward is looking for Kyra too, which might make for an interesting complication (and a far funnier, wickeder play) but doesn’t, as Edward is still a faltering adolescent and decidedly on his best behavior. Kyra is living in a cold-water flat and teaching social rejects, of which post-Thatcherite Britain is understandably full. Alice has passed on, Tom is guilty but needy, and, well, why not have one’s cake and eat it again? It tasted so good before.
The French manage these things so much better.
Old sparks do fly once more, both erotic and political. With Alice gone, Tom and Kyra can reunite with an almost good conscience, and Edward seems ready to act as their go-between. There’s a lot of baggage, though. Tom’s an unreconstructed capitalist, while Kyra has reinvented herself as a do-gooder. They may love each other, but can they stand each other?
How soon the world has changed
Artistic Director Charles McMahon, in his production note to Skylight, says that it “closely resembles the everyday world of today.” But the present is a rapidly moving target, and Skylight is very much of its John Major-ish, mid-’90s moment. Tom, who’s sold his hotel chain to a bigger company and now has an executive sinecure, complains that the banks that were so eager to underwrite venture capitalists only a short while before have returned to their old finicky ways.
This is an intended reflection on the Thatcher era, when Troglodytic entrepreneurs suddenly became cultural heroes, and the audience is supposed to get the message that Tom (his own venturing days behind him in more ways than one) is a dinosaur. On the other hand, Kyra’s attempt to civilize the violent brats of the new underclass, with its wistful echoes of Shaw’s Major Barbara, is hardly less a throwback. In any case, Britain’s post-9/11 world of subway bombings and jihadist pulpits is hardly amenable to solo social work, however well intended.
In Pinter’s hands….
The fact that the political argument in Skylight is already passé undercuts the underlying quarrel of personal hurt and betrayal for which it is a counter. The latter is problematic, too. We are asked to accept the premise that a virile husband can import a nubile stranger young enough to be his daughter into his household without arousing the suspicions of his wife or the jealousy of his young son. Maybe such a plot would work in Pinter (the husband would simply bully his family into silence and suppressed rage), but Hare wants us to believe in this idyll; indeed, his play and his characters depend on it. He postpones the reckoning by doling out his plot in bits and pieces, but when we finally understand what is being required of us, even the most willing suspension of disbelief must fail.
Peter DeLaurier makes a forceful case for Tom, and Genevieve Perrier gets good mileage out of a dimpled, poker-face stare. Director Dan Kern moves the play along as briskly as he can, given the convolutions of plot and the essentially static duel between the protagonists. Pinter, again, would have used half the words to twice the effect, and what we seem trapped in is like nothing so much as an old-fashioned Ibsen problem play. Hare can write, and there’s a better, more honest play somewhere in Skylight. I wish he’d brought it out.
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