NEW YORK (AP) — Hey, Hugh. You're not the only chef on Broadway.
Hugh Jackman, who this season famously gutted and prepared a raw fish with fennel and lemon onstage in "The River," suddenly has competition for top theater culinary honors from Carey Mulligan.
Mulligan, in a crackling revival of David Hare's "Skylight" that opened Thursday at the Golden Theater, starts and completes a spaghetti Bolognese during the first act, chopping onions and garlic and boiling water along the way. The whiff of sausage lingers deliciously during intermission.
It's a fitting theatrical device because this show, quite simply, cooks.
Mulligan, a spectacular Bill Nighy, the marvelous newcomer Matthew Beard and the director Stephen Daldry make alchemy onstage with their own red-hot talent. Funny, poignant and insightful, the West End transfer "Skylight" is a full meal in a place where appetizers often pass as entrees.
Set over 24 hours in a freezing cold apartment in a less-than-desirable part of London, the story is centered on the meeting after three years of former lovers, the high-flying restaurateur Tom (Nighy) and the inner city school teacher Kyra (Mulligan). Their six-year affair ended badly, and now the path has become clear for a possible rekindling.
Since the affair, Kyra has left Tom's "warm bubble of good taste and money" and teaches at a disadvantaged school, commuting home to live in a dismal apartment with worn pots, scuffed, grimy walls and an Ikea plastic bag holder. (Set designer Bob Crowley, brilliantly taking a walk on the sad side.)
Nighy, dressed in an expensive-looking coat and suit, is a ball of nervous energy as he trades barbs with Kyra, snooping around her apartment and tut-tutting at how far he feels she's fallen. He has a funny little habit of pulling chairs out with his feet. When Beard appears in scenes playing his son, the apple clearly hasn't fallen far from the tree.
Mulligan, dressed in a thick, shapeless sweater, is on home turf — she happily perches on a counter — and seems utterly righteous, even though there's a profound sadness inside. Their interactions are so well expressed that Nighy wordlessly opens the kitchen faucet for Mulligan while her hands are smeared with meat.
There is love here, clearly, but there is also so much that separates them. Wealth, politics, guilt, resentment, parenting and the very meaning of life are touched on as the duo press and probe each other.
The play is a bit like a verbal tennis match. No sooner has one side swayed the audience with a powerful backhand than the other gets to serve, smashing their own serve toward the baseline. Hare here is a master of varying the rhythms of anger and affection organically, so escalations into screaming abuse never feel manipulated. Stuff gets thrown in anger, but only when provoked.
Will these old lovers reconnect? Or is it too hard and too late? Hare supplies a definitive answer and then adds a lovely, hopeful coda over breakfast. You will leave full as if you'd eaten a full meal, too.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits