Tom and Kyra confront their past and present lives in the KC Actors production of David Hare’s Skylight.

Tom and Kyra

John Rensenhouse and Katie Karel in Skylight by David Hare (Photo: KCAT)

May 28, 2018

If you caught any press releases of Skylight, the spring 2018 season closer for Kansas City Actors Theater, you might have read that it features preparation of a meal and, hence, might deduce that “Skylight” is the name of a restaurant.

But no. There is a meal prepared but it only serves to move the action along and show that restaurateur Tom (John Rensenhouse) is a control freak when he insists that Kyra (Katie Karel) add the chili (bell pepper to us) first. She ignores him. The skylight in question is the one Tom put in the bedroom so Alice, his dying wife, could have a grand view of the outside during her final days. Skylight might also be a metaphor for the open view we get of the characters’ lives and, maybe more important, the view each character gets of her/his life and that of the other two characters.

Restaurant affair

Tom and Alice owned a restaurant in London. Kyra showed up and proved adept at managing and Alice put her to work. Tom and Kyra began a six-year affair that ended when Alice found out and Kyra abruptly left, with no word or notice to Tom. She started a new life as a school teacher in a tough neighborhood, living in a small, frigid apartment.

Edward unexpected

The play encompasses an evening and part of the next morning, beginning with Kyra returning home from work only to be surprised by an unexpected visitor – Edward (Charlie Spillers), Tom’s 23-year-old son. He fills Kyra in on recent events and launches into a tirade against his father, as if Kyra were a shrink. Edward really is a good sort, though, and despite the prickly discussion they part on good terms.

Tom uninvited

Katie Karel, John Rensenhouse in Skylight by David Hare (Photo: KCAT)

Before she can regroup in a hot bath, Tom shows up. Where Edward wanted to, in part at least, get closure on events that affected his childhood, Tom wants to pick up where he and Kyra left off. But he, too, launches into a dyspeptic tirade against Edward, Alice, the restaurant business and even Kyra. Not to mention the business on when to add the chili.

They never get around to eating that meal. By the time it’s ready, it’s the end of Act 1 and Tom and Kyra have nearly reconciled. At least enough to enter from the bedroom for Act 2.

It would be easy to vilify Tom. He is obviously older (we can’t tell how much), married with at least one child and owns restaurants. But Kyra willingly participated in deceiving Alice in her own home for six years. Tom and Kyra have issues to confront.

Owning the stage

Director Darren Sextro gives the actors plenty of room to move in a tight space. Scenic designer Bret Engle and lighting designer Kylor Greene create a cozy, if chilly, atmosphere with the sort of gray courtyard view behind the set, which enhances the mood when it “snows.” Although the play premiered in 1995, Sextro has updated it a bit. While Hare’s script pokes fun at the British disdain for central heating, Kyra uses her phone to turn on music. Seems that a person that technologically adept might think about better heating, but I digress.

Spillers’ Edward is almost overpowering during his first discussion with Kyra. John Rensenhouse is simply towering. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him on stage – jeez, the Rep’s King Lear comes to mind but I know it’s more recent than that. From the moment he enters Kyra’s apartment, he owns the space. He also has fun with some of the lines, especially when he tells Kyra that there are stores, actual stores, where she can buy a heater that, unlike the crummy one she has, will produce actual heat.

Katie Karel more than holds her own. She dishes it right back to Tom and Edward without missing a beat. She might not look it, but Karel’s Kyra is one tough cookie, especially when she’s playing the shrink for Edward and Tom.

Timely commentary

Considering the current social and political environment, some raised eyebrows, with accompanying murmuring throughout the audience. Others made us laugh. And while the meal is sort of a red herring, Skylight covers lots of ground and leaves us with much food for thought.

Skylight

Playwright: David Hare
Director: Darren Sextro
At: Kansas City Actors Theatre, H&R Block City Stage at Union Station
Ends: June 10