In the David Hare-penned play Skylight, onstage at 35below through Sunday, Feb. 18, Kyra Hollis (played by Trinity Smith Keel) resides in a run-down London apartment all by her lonesome. Her simple life as a schoolteacher is rattled one day when 18-year-old Edward Sergeant (Lee Wilson) pays a visit.
Years ago, Kyra was hired by Edward’s mother, Alice, to work in the Sergeants’ restaurant, and she ended up living with Edward’s family. However, since Kyra departed suddenly, Edward has finally come to get answers. After he leaves, Edward’s father, Tom (Andrew Gall), shows up hoping to rekindle the sparks between himself and Kyra that developed into a secret affair.
The metaphoric title of the play comes from a window guilt-ridden Tom built for his wife, Alice. Tom wanted her to still be able to view the world from her deathbed. She’s an important character we only meet through conversation.
Hare’s Skylight is a curiously morose show that’s just a few strokes shy of being something profound. That’s unfortunate because the play feels as if it has more to say. The grappling dialogue between Kyra and Tom is too repetitious, and we get caught in the same emotional cycle, which never quite lands correctly.
That said, Smith Keel is so invested in the part that she becomes the vanity-stripped Kyra. From the word go, she is astoundingly believable. Smith Keel sets the downtrodden tone of the play and then erupts like a volcano in the second act. Even when she’s chopping vegetables, we can’t take our eyes off of her. There’s a great moment where she shields real tears by crying over an onion — the sizzling aroma of a Vidalia in a pan lingers throughout the performance. This is without question one of Smith Keel’s greatest performances, and she is better than the play itself. Smith Keel enhances the feeling that Kyra is playing the stubborn fool, believing that working with her students is enough fulfillment in life.
Gall has a certain Tim Curry charisma as the rich, uppity businessman. The character’s possessive nature and guilt encompass him. During Tom’s long bouts of dialogue, we are pulled further into Kyra’s subtleties. Smith Keel is game to touch raw emotion throughout, Gall eventually rises to meet her in the conclusion, and together they both manage to hit a nerve. This irritation is needed for us to walk away comparing our own past relationships.
The attractive Wilson is absolutely terrific in a role that, as written, is far too small. Hare could have used this character as a more obvious tool for the plot’s development. We aren’t exactly sure if an intriguingly sordid future is intended for Kyra and Edward. Wilson cleverly suggests as much with a sexy flash of his valentine boxer shorts that helped skew the warm-toned costume design by Victoria Smith.
There’s an inherent passion behind this production. By the end, we find ourselves searching for that skylight in our own lives — a moment when we built something beautiful in an attempt to mend something terrible that we did for the sake of love. Skylight is nicely directed by Scott Keel with attentive stage management by one of Asheville’s best actresses, Devyn Ray. Their strong desire for this production to live in the room ultimately makes it a success.
WHERE: 35Below, 35 E. Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org WHEN: Through Sunday, Feb. 18. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m. $15