Emily Mann loves David Hare’s plays. You can tell from the intense production of Skylight now at the McCarter Theatre through June 2. Hare is one of the best writers of dialogue now going, which is saying a lot. He’s gotten Oscar nominations for his film scripts for The Hours (2002) and The Reader (2008). Like his plays, these turned ordinary talk into a kind of poetry, burdened situations into slow-burning gunpowder trails. That’s also true of the recent BBC short series Collateral starring Carey Mulligan.
In Skylight, we’re in a grotty apartment in northwest London (a tremendous, ever so off-kilter set by Tony- and Barrymore-winner Beowulf Borritt). Kyra (played with piquant wit and high dudgeon by the remarkable Mahira Kakkar), a teacher in a grotty school, lives there. She and Tom (Greg Wood, who seems ubiquitous and always good) had a six-year affair while Kyra lived with him and his family. When someone leaves, it blasts a hole in lives all around.
And when someone returns, watch out. Things are going to blow, but not right away. One of the great virtues of this 1995 play (which Mann and company keep so fresh it seems it were written as a pained reaction to Trump and Brexit) is how it takes its time. No 60-minute rip-through this; Skylight will lead us through the entanglements and regrets of three lifetimes.
It won’t be just love and betrayal, not just loss and frustration. Those would be enough, but Hare and Mann keep the aperture wide open. Born middle-class, Kyra is an exquisitely trained university graduate — yet she has chosen the life of an inner-city teacher. That drives Tom nuts. He began humble and worked his way up the corporate ladder; he is proud of it, and full, as Kyra sees, “of the self-pity of the rich.” Social liberal politics clashes with self-congratulating business arrogance. He accuses her of shallowness: “Loving the people is easy for you, but loving a person is hard.” She says, “You always want more … there is no peace in you.”
Mann adds race, since Kakkar is a woman of color born in India. Race/politics/class crackle and snap in an electric arc between these two. Kakkar-as-Kyra is superbly ironic, Wood-as-Tom bitter and kinetic. Her soliloquy about teaching (“there’s nothing I’ve done in my life which is harder”) brought me to tears, and his about nostalgia for the 1980s, when “for a moment, we all had this vision … of how fast and fun it could all be,” persuades us of his love for what he does.
And let us mention the tender, awkward frame: Tom’s son, Ed (Zane Pais, utterly inhabiting the character), who appears once with beer, another time with breakfast, hoping to mend the gap.
Mann is ending her 30-year tenure at McCarter after the 2019-20 season. Her deft, subtle touch in Skylight reminds us of how great she’s been. And David Hare reminds us that love is like the snow: It can cover everything.