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Cultural rift revisited: David Hare’s ‘Skylight’ as timely as ever

“Skylight” features LaurRook Philip Earl Johns| MICHAEL BROSILOW PHOTO

“Skylight” features Laura Rook and Philip Earl Johnson | MICHAEL BROSILOW PHOTO

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When: Through Feb. 10

Where: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis

Tickets: $45-$65

Info: (773) 753-4472;

Run time: 2 hours 30 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: January 21, 2013 7:23PM

Sometimes a play can establish its authenticity by way of the most ordinary, easily recognizable bit of action. Such is the case with director William Brown’s fierce, stunningly well-acted Court Theatre production of “Skylight,” British playwright David Hare’s multilayered love story that was first produced in 1995 (when Britain was just emerging from a long recession), but now feels as if it were written yesterday.

And just what is it that seals the deal so effectively from the very opening moments of “Skylight”? It is the entrance of Kyra Hollis (Laura Rook, a young actress, wholly new to me, whose natural beauty and extraordinary talent are sure to send her career skyrocketing after this role).

A 30-year-old teacher who works at a troubled inner-city high school, and lives in an equally rundown neighborhood, Kyra opens the door of her poorly heated London flat. Loaded down with canvas totes of groceries, she is cold and exhausted. And as soon as she dumps everything on the floor in this shabby, thrift-shop-decorated apartment (spot-on interior by set designer Todd Rosenthal), she heads to the bathroom to run a hot shower. Of course the minute she steps into the tub her doorbell rings. And as there is no intercom, she must grab a robe and toss the key out the window to her unexpected visitor.

All this serves as an immediate indication that we are in the real world, looking in on how the majority of people, including those working in modestly paid “socially minded” professions, actually live. And this way of life is, as it turns out, a point of honor for Kyra — which is not to say she hasn’t known something else.

Kyra’s initial visitor is Edward Sargeant (the beguiling Matt Farabee), the sweet, privileged, gently rebellious 18-year-old son of her former lover, the enormously successful restaurateur, Tom Sergeant (Philip Earl Johnson, an actor of great skill, subtle sexiness and easeful sophistication). Throughout their eight-year affair, Tom was married to Alice, who had not only mentored Kyra, but made her feel part of the family. Now, after three years — and Alice’s death from cancer — Tom is depressed and at loose ends, and Edward hopes Kyra will help his father.

As it happens, Tom turns up at her door soon afterward. To be sure, the chemistry between these two is still palpable, but so is the great divide in their emotional makeups and values. Or maybe the “values” divide is simply exacerbated by their history and tuning. That, as it turns out, is the great puzzle at the core of this play as they argue about everything from the meaning of success, to how best to help the poor, to love and independence in a relationship.

As Kyra begins to cook a simple pasta dinner (a long, supremely well-orchestrated scene that becomes a perfect metaphor for all that binds and divides these two), the sexual heat, as well as the emotional tension between them is brilliantly anatomized. And as the night wears on, the clash of their ideologies and needs only intensifies.

Brown, making his Court Theatre debut, demonstrates (not for the first time) that he is a master of delving into grown-up drama and the psychology behind all our choices in life. And Hare gives us one of the more charming and poignant final scenes to be found in any contemporary play.

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