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Most of David Hare’s Skylight is the two-hour debate between former lovers Tom Sergeant and Kyra Hollis. It’s a talky play, an actor’s play, and much has been made of how Michael Gambon and Lia Williams, who played Tom and Kyra in London and New York, warmed Hare’s warring ideologies and transformed their debating into the death rattles of a doomed love affair. But Skylight doesn’t have only two characters; there’s a third, Tom’s son Edward, whose visits with Kyra bookend the main action of play. Jeff Gardner, Edward in Studio Theatre’s current production, is used to playing secondary roles, but his performance in Skylight is light-years from the kind of work he did before joining Actors’ Equity: mainly carrying spears and getting killed—in the background—during epic battle sequences.

“My part in Skylight is certainly—I hate to say—a device, but it is,” Gardner admits. “From the very get-go, I take care of all of Hare’s exposition. All the back story of who these people are, where my father’s at now, who this woman is…all that stuff comes in that first scene. So the challenge is to hopefully set up Edward as not just an expositional gimmick, but to make this character, this person, an integral part of the lives of the other two characters.”

In order to bring Edward into sharper focus—and to create a relationship with his father (played by Ed Gero), even though the two are never onstage together—Gardner sat in on all of Joy Zinoman’s rehearsals, not just the ones he was called for. “I watched Ed create Tom so that I could mimic and take some of his -isms and gestures and make them my own,” he explains. “As if I, being his son, had learned these things growing up in his household. So that the audience will make the connection that I’m the son of this man.”

Gardner hopes his next gig will develop some new acting muscles. It should; he’s not just playing another supporting role, he’s playing two: both of the male leads in the Kennedy Center’s upcoming production of Little Women.—Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa