Hidden Cove's production of David Hare's critically acclaimed Skylight, now playing in Toronto, involves the emotional tapestry of a London schoolteacher and a former (much older) lover who attempts to regain her affections. The Globe caught up with renowned Canadian actress Sara Topham, who co-stars as the conversational play's Kyra.
In a Stratford Festival production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and later on Broadway, you played Gwendolyn. You said that you had fun playing the character because she was nothing like you. Do you have anything in common with Skylight's Kyra, a London schoolteacher in an impoverished neighbourhood?
I live in New York, and one of the things that I do there is teach for an organization that does a lot of outreach into schools. Almost as soon as I accepted the role in this production I was asked to be part of a pilot production going into a school in the Bronx. It's what's referred to as a strainer school, which means it's the last way of catching these kids before they leave the school system. It's the New York City equivalent of the school Kyra teaches at in London. Without that opportunity, I'd be less informed about the world she's in.
How about characteristics in common with Kyra?
There's an incident in the play where Kyra talks about being spit on. I was on the subway in New York, and there was a man who was clearing his sinuses and making that hork noise, and he just spit. It landed on me. The level of shock that's in your body when someone's gob is running down the side of your face – you don't know how you're going to react to something like that, but I just found this incredibly quiet place. There's no way of changing what happened. In the play, Kyra has that same quietness that I have at times felt in my own life when reacting to shocking experiences, rather than getting your fists up.
And what about differences between you and Kyra?
Kyra is walking the walk, whereas I go into my school and I teach for the sessions I've been hired to teach, and then I walk away. Kyra's not doing that. There's a whole lot of conversation as to why she's doing what she's doing, and the Tom character certainly has his opinions.
He believes she's doing it as a form of self-punishment, right?
Well, I'll only speak for my character. I think part of her journey is learning how to walk the walk for the right reasons and not as a kind of punishment to herself for her past.
If not as punishment, then why?
As truly a calling in her life. She's going to stick with these kids because she believes in them. I admire that enormously.
Can you speak about the tension between Kyra and Tom?
The battle of the play is that the love is still there. But how do you love a person who is refusing to be the person that you love? That goes for both of them.
Does the story ring true for you?
Isn't it happening all over the place? People who love each other but can't be together, for whatever reason? That's the hard thing about being a grown-up. There's my version of the truth, and there's your version of the truth. It's so hard. You can't ask someone to be something they're not.
You can, but it's only going to end in tears.
Exactly, right? And then the story becomes, 'What do I chase? Do I hold my centre or do I surrender it.' I'm lucky I'm in a marriage where I've never been asked to surrender my centre. I haven't faced that in my adult life. But I think a lot of people do.
Skylight runs to July 9. $38 to $64. Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre, 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com.