30-year-old schoolteacher Kyra Hollis has scarcely gotten back to her East London flat, the evening’s groceries in tow, when recent high school grad Edward Sargeant arrives on her doorstep with a question and a request. Kyra, a former employee of Edward’s restaurateur father, had been living with the Sargeants for half a dozen years until suddenly vanishing from their lives a couple years back. Not long after, Edward’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, her death last year leaving Edward without the two most important women in his life, his real life Mum and the “older sister” Kyra had become to him. Edward wants to know why Kyra abandoned them. He also wants her to do something to help his father, Tom, who’s not been doing all that well since his wife’s death.

Entirely by coincidence, Edward’s visit is followed by Tom’s unexpected arrival, and for most of the rest of David Hare’s Skylight, Tom and Kyra attempt to rekindle what we soon learn was a six-year affair carried on behind an unsuspecting Alice’s back. In fact, it was only Alice’s discovery of their relationship that sent Kyra packing with no intention of ever returning.

Hare’s Olivier Award-winning 1995 two-act drama now gets a first-class intimate staging at South Pasadena’s Fremont Centre Theatre, ably directed by Ken Meseroll, and featuring stellar performances by Erin Shaver as Kyra, Stuart W. Howard as Tom, and Benjamin Scott Perry as Edward.

As might be expected from a mostly two-character play each of whose four scenes takes place in real time, there is a lot of talk in Skylight. Tom and Kyra recall the day she stumbled across a “Waitress Wanted” sign and ended up staying for a half dozen or so years. Kyra explains why she was willing to go on being Tom’s mistress for so many years and why she broke off their relationship so suddenly. She expresses her disapproval of the way Tom treats his driver and Tom explains his quite different views of the matter. Tom relives Alice’s illness, and the effect it had on their life as husband and wife. There’s also an amusing anecdote Tom recounts about an unsolicited visit he received from a local support group counselor on a mission to “help him to grieve.”

All the while throughout, Kyra cooks spaghetti, mixing sauce ingredients, chopping zucchini, and heating it on the onstage electric range—quite a feat in and of itself.

All this talk, which continues several hours later in Act Two, can tend to be a bit too much talk, especially as (on paper at least) neither Kyra nor Tom are particularly sympathetic characters. Fortunately, the words they speak are the work of a playwright of considerable wit and intelligence. Fortunately, too, Kyra and Tom are brought to life at the Fremont by a pair of talented actors who make us believe in them as a couple. If we care about the outcome of their reunion, it’s as much because of the actors portraying them as it is because of Hare’s words.

Shaver and Howard costarred in last year’s much acclaimed revival of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, doubtless a factor in the believability of Kyra and Tom as a couple with a shared history. As Edward, fresh-faced newcomer Perry is such an engaging presence that one can’t help wishing Hare had given him more stage time. All three actors’ English accents are as spot-on as their performances. (Kimshelley Lessard deserves high marks for her dialect coaching, with additional coaching by Paul Tavianini.)

Scenic designer Joel Daavid’s carefully detailed set has exactly the grungy, lived-in look one would expect from Kyra’s wrong-side-of-London digs, Rachel Jaime Miller’s lighting clueing us in immediately to the time of day of or night of each scene. No credit is given for sound design or costumes. both of which are fine. Grady Hutt is stage manager, assisted by Shanyn Strub.

For theatergoers who have not yet discovered the Fremont Centre Theatre, South Pasadena’s gem of an intimate space, Skylight provides a perfect introduction. Though not a lot “happens” during its two hours (plus intermission), the before-during-&-after of Kyra and Tom’s relationship makes for an enjoyable evening of theater likely to resonate with anyone who’s ever been in (or out of) love.

Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
June 6, 2010
Photos: Paul Skipper

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