December 4, 2008

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Remains of an affair
The Merrimack Rep produces David Hare’s Skylight

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Kyra Hollis, played by Amanda Fulks, is presented in her first interaction with Edward as a character with no-nonsense British dry humor and directness in Skylight. Her sarcasm seemed surprising in that Kyra hasn’t seen 18-year-old Edward, played by Joe Lanza, in some years.

When he tells her, “It’s a very nice place,” she answers with, “When did you start saying dumb things like that?”

Kyra’s place is an unheated, crumbling flat with thrift store furniture in a neglected corner of London. Merrimack Repertory Theatre outdid themselves creating it, right down to the detail of a British electric outlet. You could smell the onions on the stove as Kyra cooked. Moonlit snow is seen through her window.

Playwright David Hare (who has been knighted and is the associate director of the Royal National Theatre) lays the groundwork for the main event through Edward’s visit. Edward’s father Tom, as Edward did, arrives unannounced at Kyra’s home, also after years of separation. Edward uses words like “fear” and “confidence” to describe his father.

Kyra at first appears to be the cold non-victim she strives to be. But over a long night with Tom, played by Christopher McHale, she shows a much more vulnerable side, and may be hiding things from herself.

As they rehash the past and try to come to terms with the present, we learn that Kyra met Tom and his wife Alice when Kyra was 18. Now a little past 30, Kyra had lived with their family for several years, and worked for Tom, who owns restaurants and hotels. Kyra and Tom had an affair for more than six years, and Kyra left both family and business abruptly when Alice found out.

He’s meant to be about 20 years older than her, and some of their arguments look more like they are baiting each other as a parent and child would. He’s in the role of the provider, the job- and wealth-creator, while she’s taken the role of the champion for the disadvantaged.

“You could never accept the nature of business,” Tom tells her, and he wonders if his “old friend Kyra’s joined some religious cult?”

When she really gets into it with him, laying down all that she sees wrong with the world, it seems over the top, as if he’s right about the religious cult. Kyra acts self-righteous, and her speech sounds passé in an era when people don’t automatically expect to do better than their parents. But the play was written in 1995, post those indulgent 1980s, and her speech makes more sense in that context.

Yet as the artistic director Charles Towers pointed out before the show, there are plenty of references to banks that are surprisingly relevant.

Tom complains to Kyra of a banker lending him money at a high interest rate. “I’m an entrepreneur — I’m a doer. I actually go out, I make things happen. I give people jobs which did not previously exist,” Tom told the banker. The banker admits he hates taking risks, but asks Tom, “Has it occurred to you that this may be the reason finally why it’s you who always has to come groveling to me?”

The setup of Skylight seems odd overall. It stayed odd, because the men were mainly angry that Kyra just left, as if she could somehow continue being an adopted family member and devoted employee and Alice’s friend after the truth came out.

The actors all did quite a job on the delivery of the script. Fulks provided the range of emotions, McHale embodied the imposing restaurateur, and Lanza had the energy and impulsiveness of a teen who brings beer and rap CDs as a gift. 

Hare does a great job keeping the audience questioning where this is all going throughout the play, but where that is for the characters, I’m not sure.

Skylight continues through Dec. 14, Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. at 50 East Merrimack St. in Lowell, Mass. Ticket costs range from $26 to $56. Call 978-654-4678 or see merrimackrep.org.


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