David Hare’s award-winning drama “Skylight,” now running at the Ojai ACT, is an adversarial, class-conscious political play in service to an engrossing love story. Written and set in 1995 London, where it earned the Guardian’s coveted Best New Play award, it’s oddly even more relevant now than 21 years ago, and the hit 2015 Broadway rendition gleaned a Tony Award for Best Revival of A Play.
In this balanced portrait of an unbalanced country, human relations remain as complex, tender, and wounding as in any Grecian play, but the extent to which society is divided politically and economically is arguably even greater today in 2016’s USA than it was in post-Thatcher Britain.
The play centers on Kyra (Anna Kotula), a young, middle-class, over-qualified teacher at a working-class London school; and canny, charismatic, self-made man, Tom (Buddy Wilds), her much older erstwhile boss and lover. Kyra lived with Tom and his wife, Alice, who has since died of cancer. Prior to her death, Alice discovered their affair, at which time Kyra abruptly up and disappeared. Now the two are brought together for one night to face their shared past and this production’s taut performances yield a captivating two hours of theatre.
Both characters are given clear, searing voice and the play has a simple dialectic structure which allows for sophisticated delving into its many dichotomies: male and female; haves and have-nots; living and dead; capitalism and socialism; past and future; self and society.
There is hypocrisy, cowardice, defensiveness and self-righteousness on both sides to different extents but all are being painfully ground hard under the swirling weight of the monstrous guilt they both feel about Alice. They argue about cooking and capitalism, central heating and society’s left behind with ferocity and conviction. Each is married to their ideals, but there are moments of capitulation, affection and good humor that make it easy to see how these two very different people could once have been so much in love.
Kotula’s Kyra is an ultimately touching depiction of a woman trying to atone, looking for absolution in society while grappling with her own contradictions. By turns guarded, jaded, wise, and naive, she is also a little patronizing about the working class she lives amongst, almost romanticizing their lives, and coming off, uncomfortably, as a class-tourist.
On the other hand, her sense of justice and outrage at society’s widening gulfs in wealth and opportunity, leads to a magnificent speech about her choices and idealism, making Tom, the self-made man’s pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps capitalism look like poor stuff indeed.
Tom’s attitude to life can be accurately inferred from his opinion about listening to women: “They either want you or not: listening is halfway to begging.” Wilds, a veteran of the Ojai stage, is allowed to show his range in this role, has terrific chemistry with Kotula, and has never been better. Explosive, self-righteous, self-pitying and engaging, he is a classic narcissist; but, we sense, a redeemable one, and we can see why he both attracts and frustrates Kyra.
Wilds has an instinctive sense of comedy and where to deploy it, and his swagger provides gratifying moments of levity in some difficult emotional excavations.
Tom’s son Edward is convincingly played by Noah Terry in two scenes which bookend the main show. There are a few distracting accent problems, especially in the opening scene, but it is to Terry’s credit as an actor that the audience soon gets past them as he embraces the mood swings of a damaged teenager hungry for affection. Director Steve Grumette has chosen and managed his cast well.
One of the greatest rewards of this psychologically teased out production is that you will almost certainly think about its personal and political themes a great deal afterwards.
The new curtain time of 7pm allows for the chance to have a happy-hour meal in town beforehand -- a full, aromatic spaghetti dinner is cooked live onstage so you will want to have eaten -- and then time to sit and ponder it with a glass of wine afterwards.
This production is a gift to those who crave satisfying, juicy, conversation-starting drama.
It plays at the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St, through June 5 at 7pm Fridays and Saturdays; 2pm Sundays. Tickets are $15 general; $12 for students, seniors, and Art Center members. Call 640-8797 for tickets and information or visit www.OjaiACT.org