An Affair to Remember at Court Theatre’s SKYLIGHT

Laura Rook as Kyra Hollis, Philip Earl Johnson as Tom Sergeant.Reviewed by MELODY UDELL

Do yourself a favor before sitting through the Court Theatre’s quietly devastating, sentimental production of David Hare’s Skylight — eat something. Those with a penchant for post-show dining may find their stomachs grumbling as spaghetti sauce simmers on the stovetop while the two main characters heat up the kitchen with their opposing political ideologies and unresolved relationship issues.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to 1995, where Kyra Hollis (Laura Rook) is cooking dinner for an unexpected visitor, her lover of more than six years, Tom Sergeant (Philip Earl Johnson). He’s paying a visit to her shabby north-London apartment simply because “it was about time” he dropped by. But we quickly learn he’s been wandering aimless in the year since his wife, Alice, died of cancer, and he thought a visit with Kyra might propel him back to the time when his rich restaurateur status deemed him a worthy husband, lover, father.

From the moment Tom enters Kyra’s small apartment, devoid of central heat and the creature comforts she once knew, Tom is disdainful of her new life. A former waitress in one of Tom’s restaurants, Kyra grew close to the entire Sergeant family, even moving in with them, joining them on vacations and reading their young kids to bed. But after Alice discovered the affair, Kyra abruptly moved out and traded her life of silver-service breakfasts for that of civil-servant school teacher. Tom’s convinced she’s punishing herself, that enduring an hours-long commute and students who spit in her face is penance for betraying Alice. But what he really can’t fathom is that in the three years since Kyra split, she’s moved on and he hasn’t.

Throughout the evening, their tense discourse turns from political to personal and political again, until the audience isn’t sure where the divide lies. As Tom, Johnson brings an appropriate amount of entrepreneurial arrogance, keeping his vulnerable side at bay until he can use it best. And Rook plays Kyra with stubborn humility — each expression, each glance at Tom is clearly a battle between nostalgic longing for good times gone by and her resolve to stay true to the person she’s become.

Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal — with the great help of Jesse Klug’s lighting design — brings every corner of Kyra’s rundown apartment to life without creating distraction — lamps are plugged into working electrical outlets, pasta threatens to boil over on the stove. And like the two characters at the center of Skylight, David Hare knows it’s these little day-to-day realities that jerk us from our memories into the cold reality of the present.

I don’t pretend to understand the social and political atmosphere that shrouded daily life in post-Thatcher Britain, but fortunately, I don’t have to. No matter the how hazy the political clime, Hare makes easy work of making the audience feel Tom and Kyra’s sharp-edged pain, their continuous inner battle with past and current versions of themselves, and the lies they believed along the way. Skylight is a raw, intimate, emotional work put on by capable hands at the Court Theatre — just makes sure you grab a bite the show starts.

Skylight run through February 10, 2013 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue. Curtain times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are $35 to $45 for preview performances; $45 to $65 for regular run performances. Tickets are available at the Box Office, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago; (773) 753-4472 or online atwww.CourtTheatre.org. Student and senior discounts available. Groups of 10 or more may purchase discounted tickets by calling Kate Vangeloff at 773-834-3243. For calendar information please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com