- Chief New York Film Critic
- Outer Critics Circle
Thrown under the bus by her ex-husband Greg, a carping, selfish, completely self-centered Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) takes the red-eye from Los Angeles to New York City to “celebrate” her a self-assured father Elliot Isaac’s (Jack Wetherall) birthday. However, the real reason for her visit is that she “just, like couldn't physically be in LA knowing” Greg and his new twenty-four-year-old bestie Misty would be celebrating their engagement at a party where all her friends would be present. Jodi brings her twenty-year-old self-absorbed son Benjamin Cullen (Eli Gelb) along hoping a “family” birthday party will please Elliot and bring her some surcease from her angst over losing her fifty-year-old husband to a younger “more beautiful” woman.
It becomes clear in the first few moments that Jodi is a self-centered, self-absorbed, spoiled individual who has no one’s interests at heart except her own. This character deficit becomes solidified when her father’s handsome, confident, unconventional lover Trey (Will Brittain) appears from upstairs and Jodi assumes he works for Elliot. Jodi refuses to understand he is part of Isaac’s family – perhaps the most important member of his family. Trey, of course, is beautiful and young and, just as Misty “stole” her husband, Trey has wrenched her father from her leaving Jodi bereft beyond belief.
Joshua Harmon tackles themes of fidelity, beauty, love, and betrayal in his “Skintight” currently running at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. It is difficult to know whether Elliot’s and Trey’s marriage will last or what Trey’s motivations are for asking Elliot to marry him. Nor is it easy to understand Elliot’s motivations or his concept of fidelity. After all, Jeff (Stephen Carrasco) was once Elliot’s lover and now his butler and manservant. What is not difficult is to recognize that Elliot and Trey are in love in the present and their love transcends Jodi’s experiences with marriage, love, or fidelity. If only Mr. Harmon had chosen a better metaphor to describe Elliot’s affection for Trey than the unsettling (on many levels) metaphor expressed in in the sentence “I'd like to have sheets made from your skin.”
These themes and the characters that are embedded in them are not new. There are several plays and movies that feature a younger man capturing the heart of an older man and “coming between” the older man and his family. The difference here is on Joshua Harmon’s handling of the plot sequences that are driven by his perhaps familiar characters and their conflicts. There is a freshness to the theme that transcends its familiarity.
Under Daniel Aukin’s carefully executed direction, the characters explore their individual pasts and their histories with family and friends with honesty. Their portraits are authentic. One wishes for a more dynamic and layered Jodi. Because her character traits make her such an unlikable person, it is difficult to explore the deficits she claims to have experienced with her father. The same holds true of her son Benjamin. Although Eli Gelb charges his character’s “time alone” with the jock-strapped Trey with the energy of a pubescent gay young man, the actor is not given much by the playwright to make his Benjamin a likeable character. Unfortunately, the deep angst of these two characters remains unexplored by the playwright. Jack Wetherall, on the other hand, brings unbridled emotion to Elliot’s closing monologue about his affection for Trey and Will Brittain powerfully combines the beauty and softness of a Troy Donahue with the rough edges and grit of a James Dean in his splendid portrayal of Trey.
Lauren Helpern’s set reflect the playwright’s affinity for stairs as a trope for character development and neatly captures the essence of privilege and wealth to which the Isaaks/Cullens have become accustomed in their successful adult lives as do Jess Goldstein’s costumes. Orsolya’s (Cynthia Mace) maid’s costume speaks for itself and supports her pleasing performance as the maid who knows best.
“Skintight” ends on a hopeful note. Somehow the characteristics of an authentic family modeled by Elliot and Trey ignite enough memory to convince Jodi and Benjamin that some new understanding of family is now possible and even desirable.
The cast of “Skintight” includes Will Brittain, Stephen Carrasco, Eli Gelb, Cynthia Mace, Idina Menzel, and Jack Wetherall.
The creative team includes Lauren Helpern (Scenic Design), Jess Goldstein (Costume Design), Pat Collins (Lighting Design) and Eric Shimelonis (Original Music and Sound Design). Jill Cordle serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.
“Skintight” plays at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Tuesday through Sunday August 26, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Skintight” are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, or in person at any Roundabout box office. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel in “Skintight.” Credit: Joan Marcus.