The play Skylight by British playwright David Hare, running at Burning Coal Theatre Company through Oct. 23rd, does not carry the social and political import that Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis attributes to it in his program notes, in our opinion. Beautifully performed by Davis himself and Emily Barrett Rieder, with the support of Matthew Tucker, Skylight is a story of two people with much more than just philosophical differences, who became intimate and now examine that intimacy. It is interesting, but not awakening.
The outcome is predictable. Certainly, social and political differences infuse their dialogue; but we saw that more as cover conversation to avoid the real feelings that lie below — guilt, distrust, betrayal, grief. Their relationship occurred during Tom’s (Davis) marriage to a woman who later died of cancer. Kyra (Rieder) felt a strong attachment to Alice, the wife. Edward (Tucker), Tom’s son from his marriage to Alice, burns to know why Kyra left with no goodbye.
If Tom is the archetype of the “win-at-all-cost” business mogul, then Kyra would be the altruistic progressive do-gooder, living in semi-squalor while being a missionary of humanity within the school system. Perhaps, that leaves Edward as a product of those two influences. However, we feel the fabric of society in America is more complex than that; and these characters are not so much representative as created — circumstantial, as it were.
Burning Coal guest director John Gulley has helped the actors find reality in their characters, and has blocked the play appropriately to reveal the dynamics of their discourse; however, Rieder and Davis do occasionally stand for too long at angles where both faces cannot be seen by many in the audience.
Jerome Davis’ body language is exquisite, while he examines every artifact, peels off of his overcoat, and stalks the room. He pauses in a boxer’s stance, left foot forward, arms cocked at his side, holding that stance through whole passages; and he always finds the dominating posture.
Emily Rieder gives beautifully written lines the beautiful reading they beg for, and Kyra’s sudden explosion at one point is somehow understated and startling at once. We see the result of silverware flying but not her throwing of them. It’s a magnificent feat of acting, as is her ability to prepare and make a spaghetti dinner while maintaining an emotionally charged conversation with Davis as Tom.
Their scene in which Tom disparages Kyra’s choice of cheese is precious. As the first act grows, the characters accommodation to each other is intense and obviously driven by a need for understanding and intimacy, despite Tom’s bullying, dismissive manner. In the second act, Kyra and Tom get down to serious digging and values arise, negotiations begin, and they honestly reveal themselves. Davis’ Tom also has an abrupt and understated outburst that may drive some of the audience to feel it should not all end like this.
Matthew Tucker is charming as Tom’s son Edward; he holds his own with two profoundly talented partners. The recent N.C. State University graduate plays the part of an 18 year old with energy and sensitivity, making real Edward’s arc into maturity.
A wonderful set has been designed by Elizabeth Newton, providing a workable kitchen and the real smell of garlic during the cooking process. The apartment is a kitchen/dining/living room and off-stage bedroom, with tasteful rugs and the lived-in feel of an intellectual tenant.
The changes in mood are enhanced by Erich Keil’s lighting design, although some changes might not have been necessary.
Costume designer Katy Werlin has done a fine job, with a luxurious overcoat for Tom, and a British double vent suit jacket. Jerome Davis wears the costume as if it were bespoke for him. Kyra’s garb is comfortable casual, off the rack stuff.
This is an excellent show with great performances and enough pith to generate conversation driving home.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article107284832.html; Oct. 7th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8160, and Oct. 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/skylight/Event?oid=5068174. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 7th Triangle Review review by Dustin K. Britt, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/10/a-captivating-script-and-compelling-performances-make-burning-coals-skylight-a-must-see-show/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents SKYLIGHT at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13-15, 2 p.m. Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20-22, and 2 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.
TICKETS: $15 Thursdays and $25 Friday-Sunday ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain) and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSPeSjEkmpw.
Skylight (1995 West End and 1996 Broadway play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1982/skylight (Samuel French, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/skylight-4798 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylight_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Sir David Hare (English playwright and screenwriter): https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/david-hare (British Council | Literature bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-hare-27017 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002376/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/David-Hare-51688933489/ (Facebook page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hare_%28playwright%29 (Wikipedia).
John Gulley (Greensboro, NC director and associate professor at UNCG): https://vpa.uncg.edu/bios/john-gulley (University of North Carolina at Greensboro bio) and https://www.facebook.com/john.gulley.319 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.