Both performers are making their Broadway debuts in this production but it’s Nighy who steals the show with a witty, Tony-caliber performance. But then the character he plays, a physician named Oliver Lucas, is a provocateur, an expert at provoking his physical-therapist son (Andrew Scott) who has never forgiven his father’s philandering.
Oliver is also no slouch at getting under the skin of Nadia Blye, the role played by Moore. Nadia is a world-class newswoman, having reported from such hot spots as Bosnia and Iraq, but who now has found contentment — and safety — in the hallowed halls of Yale.
Moore, best known as a film actress in such movies as “Far From Heaven,” “The Hours” and “Boogie Nights,” is a little tentative, particularly in the first act. Yet she gains confidence in Act 2, when Oliver and Nadia go head to head for a late-night confrontation on the lawn of the doctor’s home. The actress is at a disadvantage, too, in that Hare has given her more of his high-tone pronouncements — statements that often sound as if they are little sermons.
“Wouldn’t it be refreshing to restore the notion of bad behavior? And people being responsible for what they do? You do something wrong, you own up, you pay the price!” she says at one point during the play.
Nadia is on the defensive because she was an early proponent of American involvement in Iraq and even went to the White House to advise the president. “I’ve always supported humane intervention in countries where terrible things are happening,” she says. Her stand has damaged her credibility, particularly at Yale.
Nighy, on the other hand, gets to deliver more of Hare’s wittier asides, slyly poking fun, for example, at such early 21st century necessities as personal trainers.
Tellingly, the evening’s most potent moment has nothing to do politics but, of course, with sex. The playwright carefully plots the erotic tension as Oliver and Nadia move in Act 2 toward what could be the start of an affair.
Hare, author of such plays as “Plenty,” “The Secret Rapture” and “Amy’s View,” has a fine sense of outrage — as well as a discerning view of the foibles of both Brits and Americans.
Director Sam Mendes keeps the often dense dialogue moving at a reasonable clip. And there is something refreshing and airy about designer Scott Pask’s bucolic setting of a lawn in Wales, dominated by a large tree.
The play is framed by two scenes at Yale, each involving Nadia’s meeting with a student.
One (Dan Bittner), besides declaring his love for his instructor, is unabashed in his support for America the triumphant. The other (Rutina Wesley) is a proponent of nihilism.
It’s Nadia who has to find the middle ground, and whether the woman succeeds or not, Hare suggests that she always has to keep trying.