With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
Another night in New York with my bride, another fun restaurant (The Hourglass Tavern) and another memorable play (Skylight)…
Sometimes cruelty is unintentional. Couples miscommunicate all the time resulting in hurt feelings. There’s a greater chance for pain when the relationship is illicit. And everyone has their reasons.
Something happened three years ago to make Kyra leave Tom. Was it the age difference? Was it when Tom’s wife found out? Was it out of fear? Was it Tom’s children? Was it because Kyra’s feeling changed? Whatever happened, after six years of bliss, the affair ended abruptly and bad. Kyra ran away and Tom’s family suffered a devastating blow soonafter. His wife was diagnosed with cancer and died. Now, nearly a year after her death, Tom’s family is reaching out, a rapprochement of sorts.
In David Hare’s 30th Broadway play (The Blue Room, Racing Demon, The Judas Kiss) the audience goes through the emotional gauntlet with them until the final reveal.
Not that it isn’t fun to watch. Hare has created charming characters in Kyra and Tom. Likable in their own way and despite their many differences; age, social justice and class, they are drawn to each other.
Kyra is a schoolteacher now, teaching the underprivileged in the hopes of reaching that one child, that one who has potential just out of reach, for that will make the long hours, the insults and bureaucracy she endures worthwhile. Not to mention the squalor-like conditions within which she lives.
On the other hand, Tom is a successful restaurateur, with too much money to actually respect its value and too much businessman mentality to value fatherhood, straining relations with his children, now in their late teens and early twenties.
On a winter night, Tom shows up at Kyra’s flat, demanding she come back or at least answer why she left. Given their sensibilities the dynamic that plays out during dinner is sure to send them back into the feelings of the past.
Kyra and Tom are ordinary people in ordinary situations and the play smartly eschews sensationalism and shock, opting instead for two strong characters sharing in simple truths and lies one last time.
Kyra is played by Carey Mulligan (Oscar-nominated for An Education) but it was her stage performance in the 2008 revival of The Seagull that astonished me, bringing me to this play, with my bride happily in tow. Tom is played by Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) best seen showing grim gravitas in State of Play, the English mini-series involving the politics of journalism.
Nighy takes huge gulps of the stage, airily pontificating while Mulligan makes dinner. Her own deliberate lack of fastidity to the task gives him the opportunity to stage react allowing us to immediately see the condescension and playfulness that made them last as a couple for as long as they did. Nighy could play his stuffy, eruditic, critical snob broadly a la Nathan Lane, but he instead uses his lithe frame to express more, bringing a ballet to his movements, tossing his slender arms across his body like a world-weary diva, too exhausted to instruct.
Mulligan retorts in kind, though mostly listens, introspective and mysterious, though over time her own onion peels. Her opinionated restraint is evident as she looks through him thoughtfully. Their greatest bones of contention remain the chasm of their social classes and the choices she’s made to escape the cushy creature comforts of her previous life. She instructs him as one would a pupil discussing the gargantuan task of treating society’s disenfranchised. In a measured performance, Mulligan’s youth shows but also her strength to take on her elder statesman when necessary.
Over the course of two hours, there is the push-pull, dredging over familiar arguments, as they both try to talk around the truth, though we know who has more to lose. Nighy’s blustering remains entertaining throughout because we know his inner deception will have its reckoning.
Once the end of an affair has dispatched with who hurt who first, all that is left is to say goodbye. An act that takes two people.