Threshold of revelation

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 26, 2008

Often the two doppelgänger appear to be leading Einstein — as if the prodigy's science were at the mercy of his fancy. In the more presentational beginning, Einstein's dreams are antic or mechanistic, the dreamer capering, tumbling, or running in place with his visions. But like so many of Lightman's tenderly evoked representations of time (a frozen place where parents and children or newly minted lovers long to linger, a nightingale that can be momentarily trapped but not preserved), the theater piece grows melancholy — as does on-stage virtuoso Evan Harlan's at first circusy accordion accompaniment, which turns somber and ephemeral as the piece approaches a coda that will out-poeticize the book. Savick's Einstein, however hard he tries to be just a game guy with a very big brain, cannot remain part of the lovely, mundane hubbub of life. In a balletic final moment, he slashes through reality as we know it — or as he did, 100 rollicking years ago — to enter eternity.

Imagine if you will the embers of a love affair between a committed sackcloth liberal and a successful Republican brandishing his wealth like six-guns. How big a match can you light with sexual attraction and nostalgia? If your writing is as fiery, raw, and intelligent as British writer David Hare's in the 1995 Olivier Award–winning Skylight, the answer is that you can send up a pretty big flare — and that makes the play's conclusion that love does not in the end conquer all the more poignant. Although Skylight is set in the wake of Thatcherite Britain, it reverberates for a US just struggling free of the angry grip of partisanship. The Merrimack Repertory Theatre revival (through December 14), helmed by artistic director Charles Towers on a distressed set by Bill Clarke, lovingly endeavors to authenticate the play's Northwest London setting, right down to the peeling, turf-slathered brick and McVitie's biscuits. But its x-ray of mutually resentful, philosophically opposed former lovers trying to rub themselves together like two sticks could as easily have been snapped in the Bronx.

Kyra is a 30-year-old inner-city teacher and recovering "have" who — having three years earlier catapulted herself from the lap of luxury after her two-decades-older employer/lover's wife discovered their affair — tries to make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged while living, however inconveniently, among them. Successful restaurateur Tom, whose wife has since died of cancer following a bedside sojourn bathed in the light of the title fenestration, turns up at Kyra's dingy digs one winter evening. It's a busy night: Tom has been preceded by his 18-year-old son. Edward awkwardly beseeches Kyra to help his withdrawn and furious dad, who has driven him to flee home and seek refuge with a fellow gap-year frankfurter salesperson — the only girl who will sleep with him, and that because they transmit the same weenie aroma.

A similar stink might be said to radiate from Kyra and Tom, though they've chosen different ways to eradicate it — neither as extreme as Lady Macbeth's mad ablutions. The guilt is there, of course, along with a complex skein of emotions; for Tom those include anger, self-justification, and a sense of abandonment, whereas for Kyra regret has led to a hairpin turn onto the road of self-denial. As these two come together, cautiously but with the sizzle still there, Tom huddles in his cashmere coat against the sub-Arctic temperature of the central-heatingless apartment while Kyra avoids her own conflicted if galvanic feelings in the busy actual preparation of a meager spaghetti dinner. Sitting in the theater, we smell the tomato sauce cooking itself into being along with the characters' lost connection.

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  Topics: Theater , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Steven Barkhimer, Bill Clarke,  More more >
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