BWW Review: Funny and Sad SKINTIGHT Hits the Mark
I had the following to say about playwright Joshua Harmon' s play Bad Jews: "Excessively harsh reality is at the core of most contemporary dramedies. A character cannot be rude or abrasive enough to arouse a viewer's attention or glean laughs. It's particularly characteristic of the irritating females who talk too fast, too loud and scream their shrewish lungs out. It makes me happy that I live alone; and yes, I do care and respect others and their feelings; but, being pleasant nowadays is considered boring and in drama, it will never win awards, so on with the show. " Harmon's current play Skintight is receiving its West Coast premiere at The Geffen Playhouse and star Idina Menzel's character Jodi is another shrewish female, selfish and most definitely in need of a lesson or two about how to treat others. The play has already been extended through October 12. It boasts a dynamic six person cast and is worth your time.
Jodi pays an unexpected visit to her dad Elliot (Hary Groener) one day prior to his 70th birthday. The two are at odds and he hates birthdays. Elliot, an international clothes designer, is now gay and has a young partner Trey (Will Brittain), an unintelligent boy from Oklahoma, who has porn in his past and despised by Jodi as a fortune hunter. She wants no part of him and insists that her father put him out. Jodi's son Benji (Eli Gelb) arrives from Hungary, where he is studying Yiddish culture, and is also at odds with his grandfather. Elliot shows no pride in him and he feels crushed until he meets Trey. Benji is sure Trey is straight and, like his mother, feels that he is only with grandpa for the money. A Hungarian maid Orsolya (Kimberly Jurgen), who is overworked and ignored and a butler Jeff (Jeff Skowron), a former partner of Elliot's, are also onhand for this very funny play about sad people.
As in Bad Jews, Harmon stresses his characters' unhappiness by having them strike out fiercely. Jodi defends traditional values over Elliot's wild choice of living his own way. The humor is not funny for the sake of being funny but consistent with the situation and characters' needs. We laugh because we can see and feel our own frustrations. There is no funnier line than Trey's when he addresses s hateful Jodi toward the end of Act Two ..."You're gonna be my step-daughter now."
Under Daniel Aukin's taut direction, the ensemble deliver astounding performances. Menzel is like you have never seen her before. Yes, she fought back as Elphaba in Wicked but not with this relentless ferocity. Brittain is awfully good as Trey. Trey parades around in practically the buff in a few scenes, turning Jodi off and Benji on. Brittain brings out all the awkwardness of Trey and keeps him complex and mysterious. Gelb is pure delight as Benji. A typical kid, still trying to find himself and where he fits into the world, Benji wins our hearts and Gelb never makes him sympathetic. Elliot is amazingly callous and Groener plays him cold and totally withdrawn until he opens up in a confrontation with Jodi. In one of the best scenes of the play he bears his soul about life and how to live it. A marvelous performance full of intelligence and sensitivity! Skowron makes the best of a lesser role, as does Jurgen as the maid. Both play straightforward, keeping their loneliness under wraps.
Lauren Helpern's set of Elliot's opulent but cold New York apartment is consistent with the theme of unhappiness.
Don't miss Skintight through October 12 at the Geffen! It will make you laugh and hopefully think about tolerating change in those around you.
(photo credit: Chris Whitaker)