by Sheryl Flatow
David Hare
“I spent my whole life saying I didn’t want to write plays in rooms,” David Hare said in a television interview a few years ago. The prolific playwright gravitated toward “epic plays with large casts,” big ideas, and biting social commentary. A play set in a room simply didn’t appeal to him. But in 1995, 25 years after his first play was produced, he “finally gave in.” The result was Skylight, which would go on to win the 1996 Olivier Award for Best New Play and eventually become his most produced work.
Skylight, which runs at PBD through March 1, is a three-character play about passion, politics, privilege, and grief, set in Great Britain in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister. Hare’s big ideas and social commentary are as robust as ever, but as they play out in an intimate setting and focus on the complex relationship between two former lovers, audiences seem to connect to the material in very personal ways.
Tom Sergeant (Peter Simon Hilton), a wealthy, middle-aged businessman, and the much younger Kyra Hollis (Sarah Street), his former employee, had a long, ardent love affair until his wife, Alice, discovered their relationship. Kyra and Alice were best friends, and once Alice learned the truth, Kyra walked out. A year after Alice’s death, Tom unexpectedly pays a visit to his ex, who now teaches underprivileged children and chooses to live in poverty. The third character in the play is Edward Sergeant (Harrison Bryan), Tom’s son, whose scenes with Kyra bookend this funny, searing, and romantic work.  
Sarah Street
Vanessa Morosco
Set Model
by Bill Clarke
“One of the things that makes this play so exciting is it almost feels like it could have been written yesterday,” says director Vanessa Morosco, familiar to PBD audiences from her performances in Arcadia and The House of Blue Leaves. “The play deals with issues that are part of our cultural conversation right now, so I feel that it really engages an audience and expands the conversations. But at the same time, Skylight has three very developed human beings onstage that we all can relate to. What I find extraordinary is that although these characters have very opposing worldviews at times, they are incredibly connected. One of the things that excites me is that I think the audience’s allegiances will constantly shift between characters. We immediately think, ‘Oh yes, I agree with that person, that’s who I’m behind.’ But suddenly we find ourselves agreeing with a viewpoint of the other character. I love that it's not so simple to just name one person as our hero and one person as our villain. The plays that often attract me are the ones that explore big ideas, and that’s what this play does. But David Hare is far too sophisticated a playwright to hand us easy answers. He doesn't prescribe what the moral outcome should be. He leaves us with more questions, and that’s really exciting.”
Hare is known as an ardent liberal, and Kyra’s political and social views appear to be a reflection of the playwright’s sentiments. But he doesn’t stack the deck in favor of Kyra. In fact, one of the reasons Hare wrote the play was his desire to give voice to a businessman’s perspective.
“Just as he was about to write this play, his romantic life took a turn for the better,” says Morosco. “He fell in love with the woman he’s now married to. Her previous partner had been in business, and Hare became fascinated by what business people think about, what their day-to-day experience is like, what their world is like, and how they move through the world. He realized that we as a theatrical community are generally not exposed to that mindset and what makes a person like that tick, and he wanted to get inside the head of an entrepreneur. One of the things that makes Tom very exciting is he's an innovator, a risk taker. I think that sort of person is really captivating. Even if your politics don't align with Tom’s, there are things he says that we may find ourselves agreeing with.
Sarah Street and
Peter Simon Hilton
Harrison Bryan
Sarah Street and
Peter Simon Hilton
“For instance, one important difference between Kyra and Tom is their class or their privilege, especially when they were young,” Morosco continues. “Kyra was raised in a very privileged background, had access to education, and has a university degree in mathematics. Tom is a self-made businessman who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and made his way in the world. And I think that, especially from an American filter, that's heroic. We value the self-made person. So there are aspects of Tom that are incredibly compelling, including his real, heartfelt frustration – almost mourning – that Kyra is not using her degree to what he would consider the full extent of its possibilities, and not using her intellect to make an enormous stamp on the world. Of course, what he would define as a stamp on the world is different than her definition would be. That’s one of the things that I love about the play: the same kernel of belief may manifest itself in different ways and therefore pose extraordinary conflict between two people, despite the fact that there's great love between them.”
For all the political talk, and Kyra and Tom’s differences on just about every issue, Skylight is, in the end, a play about two people trying to reconcile their past, trying to find common ground, trying to reconnect. That’s true, in a different way, for Edward as well. “It can be very seductive to only look at the political and ethical debates that are occurring,” says Morosco. “But at the end of the day it's about a family trying to figure out how to bond after they've lost the family member that held them together.” 

In addition to the verbal calisthenics, there’s a physical aspect to the play that invariably delights and fascinates audiences: a meal of spaghetti is cooked onstage. “It’s quite a feat of multitasking for both characters, because as one character has to achieve the cooking on stage, the other character needs to partner it,” says Morosco. “To me, one of the most exciting elements of theatre is when you introduce a variable, like spaghetti, that may or may not follow its blocking on a given night. There’s something so palpable and exciting about that experience in live theatre. Audiences know that while the actors may have full control of what they say, there’s this bubbling variable that may or may not go according to plan. If we were doing the film version and something went wrong with the scene, we would edit it or retake it. But in live theatre, you can’t do that. You're actually cooking a meal of spaghetti every night in front of an audience, and every meal of spaghetti is going to be slightly different in front of every new audience. So the actors and the audience are experiencing this together. The magic of theatre is that we put something ordinary onstage, and it suddenly becomes extraordinary.”
Morosco was first introduced to the “magic of theatre” by her mother, Sibley Morosco, an accomplished ballet teacher. Although Vanessa loved dance, she didn’t consider a career in theatre until she was pursuing a master’s degree at Yale. “When I went to college, I thought I was going to study mathematics, like Kyra,” she says. “But I also had a great love for language and at school I discovered philosophy, which at the time seemed to me like the perfect union of the logic of math and the beauty of language. I got my degree in philosophy and subsequently my masters in ethics, and I thought I might continue on to my PhD.”

But she was cast in a show at Yale Repertory Theatre, and things changed. “I found I really missed this expression of myself, this community expression,” she says. “The nature of an academic is often a very solo expression. It’s often writing and reading. And as much as I love that, I realized that I was very turned on by exploring ideas and expressing myself in community. So I started out as a performer, which is not an uncommon path to a director. I remember quite early on in my career looking at a speech of Hamlet’s, and thinking, ‘This is exactly like an ethical proof or a philosophical proof.’ We start out with a hypothesis, which is ‘if I hire these players to come in and perform a play in front of the king, then I will see whether my uncle is guilty or not of killing my father.’ That’s his hypothesis. And he gets through all the evidence and the details of what that argument will be, and ends with the proof, which in Shakespeare is a rhyming couplet: ‘The play’s the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.’ I thought, ‘I love the logic of this, and the use of rhetoric.’ It really appealed to me as a philosopher. I subsequently spent many years performing before transitioning into directing.” 
Vanessa Morosco
The House of Blue Leaves
by John Guare
Peter Simon Hilton and Vanessa Morosco
by Tom Stoppard
Morosco says she knew she wanted to direct when it occurred to her that as a performer, she found herself immersed in the entire play, rather than just her own role. “Going back to Hamlet again, I realized that you could give me the first line of the play, and I could just keep going. I hadn't really noticed before that I heard the entire play. That was really compelling to me; I loved the idea of being a greater part of the story. I found that the more I performed, the more I desired a greater access to the storytelling. I wanted to take a leadership position. But, like any business, theatre has been guilty of limiting who has access to leadership positions. We’re acknowledging that the doors have to open, but I don’t think the numbers are changing as quickly as we’d like to think they are. I believe that diversity of thought in any business, in any workplace including the rehearsal room, always yields a more exciting product. And I'm excited that Palm Beach Dramaworks has been among my supporters to start to pave that way to lasting change.”