‘Skylight’ is an authentic, emotionally raw look at modern relationships

David Hare’s “Skylight” has had its profile raised recently, thanks to an award-winning production on the West End starring Carey Mulligan and Billy Nighy, and the scene is better for it. The wordy, political, and authentic piece tells the story of two former lovers reuniting after a terrible event, and the truths and histories that are dug up in the process. It’s a refreshingly honest look at modern relationships, which was wildly ahead of its time when it was written in 1995. Street Corner Arts has given the piece a riveting production, full of raw, palpable emotion and realistic relationships, with a pair of very charismatic leads.

There’s something almost voyeuristic about “Skylight”. David Hare has created dialog and interactions that feel so real to life, that the audience feels like they’re peeking into the life of two ordinary people. It helps in no small part that the actors here are at the top of their game, giving life to these character with earnestness and charm. There’s rarely a false note in the piece, even though the actors’ British accents at can slip at times.

Joe Penrod is one of the unsung heroes of Austin theatre. Perhaps most well-known for playing character and supporting roles in several productions, here he takes center stage. In the wrong hands, the character of Tom would become difficult to take, but luckily Penrod brings his undeniable charisma to the role. He creates a quick chemistry with Claire Grasso’s Kyra, finding a comfort, while at the same time showing a slight animosity. His movement and posture evidence his statue and standing, while at the same time, show the history between the couple, and his baritone British demands our attention. He projects authority, while still allowing us to sympathize, a difficult balance that he pulls off flawlessly.

“Skylight” is a bit of a marathon for its lead actress, as she never truly leaves the stage throughout, so it’s to the Grasso’s credit that she carries the role with such aplomb. There’s a finesse and naturalism to her performance, a sunny warmth that shines through even as she’s shouting or crying. She’s the girl next door, and the writer was smart enough to write in moments of weakness, cracks in her veneer, so that we can see her as a well-rounded human being. There are moments where we wonder if she, and indeed Tom, are not just a mouthpiece for the author’s political ideals, but these actors are careful to ground the characters so clearly to the real world that these play off more as personal manipulations than political rants.

A well-realized two-hander, “Skylight” is an engaging mixture of love and politics, which, despite its two and a half hour run time, flows naturally and smoothly. Its leads play off each other in perfect step, with each bringing out the best in the other. It’s a play that depends on its dialog more than its action, but with a piece this well-written, featuring performers of this caliber, dialog is really all one needs.

Photo Courtesy of Street Corner Arts

Austin Shakespeare presents a raw, emotional ‘Streetcar Named Desire’

There are few more iconic plays in the American canon than “Streetcar Named Desire”. Stanley Kuwolski has become an American icon, and his yelling of “Stella” has become one of the most parodied lines in history. Taking on such a beloved work is always a difficult endeavor, as people come to it with their own preconceptions and expectations, so one must be sure to bring quality to the table. Luckily, Austin Shakespeare has brought a talented group of actors to the piece, who create a raw, emotional production of the Tennessee Williams classic.

Stanley Kuwolski is one of stage’s most notorious brutes, but what often gets overlooked in performing the character is his charm. After all, we have to see what Stella sees in him, and their passion and love for each other must be believable. Andrew Hutcheson brings just that charm to the role, able to fly off the handle with the best of them, while still hitting us with a sly smile or a sarcastic look in his eyes that makes him undeniable likable. Indeed, in the early stages of the play Hutcheson, while never seeming too smart in the role, still imbues it with a canniness that helps us root for him. However, in the later stages of the play, this likability becomes a hindrance, as his violent overtures towards Blanche come off as a bit half-cocked, and the actor doesn’t take his fury quite far enough to make his actions believable. Still, his chemistry with Amber Quick’s Stella is undeniable, and the play never feels in a better place than when we see the two of them together.

Amber Quick tackles the role of Stella with a stunning doe-eyed sweetness, a brightness that brings the audience to beaming, but as we see her tender moments with Hutcheson’s Stanley, we see she’s packing plenty of sensuality. Even in brief conversations with her sister, she brings out a minxy coyness that’s refreshing to see, a strong female character who’s not afraid to express her sexuality.

Though Stanley may be the most well-remembered character by many, “A Streetcar Named Desire” lives and dies on the strength of Blanche Dubois. It’s a part that’s incredibly easy to over play, or underplay, so striking the right balance is tantamount. From the moment Gwendolyn Kelso appears on stage, there’s a twitch to her eyes, an uncertainty in her gait that hides something tumultuous. When the time comes for Blanche Dubois to fly into one of her more dramatic moments, Kelso never plays it over-the-top, but instead stays grounded, even while letting her emotions explode.

Though not without its hiccoughs, Austin Shakespeare’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” feels emotionally honest and palpable, with the main trio digging to the heart of their characters to bring the feelings deep within the piece to the fore. It’s a beautifully realized production, even if its final notes don’t hit quite as hard as they could.

Photo Courtesy of Austin Shakespeare