BWW Reviews: SKIN TIGHT Speaks for the Lover's Soul at Renaissance Theaterworks
For the incurable or reluctant romantic, man or woman, Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks reprises award winning playwright Gary Henderson's sensuous play Skin Tight in the intimate Studio Theatre. First produced by the women's theatre company in 2004, the seductive hour reminisces one version of a marriage over a lifetime. While the theater's sparse scenery recreates a dreamlike vision of mid-19th century rural New Zealand, the production becomes an evening as the retro song claims where, "Love is lovelier the second time around."
After ten years, Leah Dutchin and Braden Moran portray the two characters in Henderson's play, Elizabeth and Tom, in a delightful and demanding redux from the company's 2004 production. Laura Gordon, a debuting director a decade ago, launched her now national career at the first premiere, and also returns. With so much experience acquired during these past years, this heavenly trio invokes a rich tenderness to the timeless story on opening night.
While Tom and Elizabeth tussle and tangle in playful although fierce moves on the stage, the audience senses their innate belief in each other. The language of the actor's bodies move together, often with the innocence of children at play or as erotic lovers, soulmates. Where two individuals trust each other with a sharp paring knife in their mouths, or as the blade moves slowly along Tom's chin. In this sense, the intense choreography becomes another character in the performance under the beautiful coordination of Maria Gillespie and assisted by Ryan Schabach.
Incorporating an elegant simplicity, Jason Fassl's barnlike, rugged backdrop frames the duo usually in motion while he focuses center stage with a lone, white porcelain claw foot tub. In Skin Tight, tin buckets and the tub hold cleansing water, to shave Tom, wash Elizabeth's hair, or spill and spit carelessly over their two bodies. Perhaps this symbol appears to wash clean the couple's marriage to its purest form, especially before Elizabeth needs to leave.
Dutchin and Moran capture the best essence of love well lived, in perfect sync, never shy with their emotional or physical connection to each other. So the audience immediately grasps, and appreciates, what really matters in life. A love twisted together over time, seen through the lens of a world war, a mother at odds with her only duagher and years working a family farm. Moments every couple can remember or relate to, those indiviudal quirks in a marriage that make life intereesting, when as Tom says, "You never want an ice cream, and then you want a taste of mine."
Elizabeth and Tom survived these years, days that often resemble a dance, sometimes a slow waltz, at others a tiring frenzy of rock and roll, or the ever sexually tense tango. Henderson, and then Gordon enhance this metaphor when the actors actually dance near the end of the performance to Gordon's choice of Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade." The familiar tune symbolizes romance against the daily wars constantly waged in life, large and small, similar to what the characters, and then the actors and director have experienced, during this play and a decade inbetween the productions. Where two people made for each other, whether winning or losing in life, thrive because they have each chosen to be together though no person, no couple, can ever be perfect or immortal.
Be unbearably romantic this April. Uncover a lover's soul while these theater stars' careers are on the rise, coming to a zenith in RTW's marvelous production Skin Tight, a performance easily seen twice. Reminisce personal memories the next evening, or walk under a finally spring sky. Sense your skin stretched tight when figuratively washed clean with another person's love, and then remember the last lyrics from a "Moonlight Serenade": I stand at the gate, and I sing you a song in the moonlight/ A love song, my darling, a moonlight serenade.
Renaissance Theaterworks presents Skin Tight in the Studio Theater at the Broadway Theater Center through April 27 that includes mature language and brief nudity. For information or tickets, please call 414. 291.7800 or www.r-t-w.com.