Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic
Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel is wickedly good in Joshua Harmon’s newest play SKINTIGHT at the Geffen Playhouse. I sat frozen in my seat watching her magically change for the better, as Jodi, a neurotic Jewish mother, and daughter of successful fashion designer Elliot (Harry Groener).
Jodi arrives in Elliot’s modern two-story New York townhome after a red-eye flight to surprise her father on his 70th birthday. Lauren Helpern’s set oozes high-end luxury in gray hues, rich wood paneling, and a contemporary stairway.
As a divorced, empty nester mother with two adult boys, Jodi is “holding on by a thin thread.” Feeling jilted that her ex-husband is about to marry a “skintight” 24-year-old Soul Cycle “spinner” who takes classes to maintain her tiny waist and large breasts,
Jodi yearns for someone to notice her and be excited when she walks into a room. When her father’s latest live-in beefcake “boy-toy” Trey, appears, he upstages her every time he enters a room.
At first Jodi thinks nothing about this Sugar Daddy relationship, since her father cycles through “boys” frequently. Yet, when she learns that her father loves Trey, she feels threatened and has a hard time to let it go.
Not only does Jodi think Trey is dim-witted, but her beloved son Benjamin “Benji” Cullen (Eli Gelb) discovers Trey is a porn star. Studying Queer Theory abroad in Hungary, Benji joins his manic momma for his grandfather’s birthday and admires Trey too.
Gelb has some of the best lines in the show, and delivers them with perfect timing. His facial expressions convey even more depth to each scene. When he and Menzel are together, they play off each other’s talent and energy. With the slightest flick of hair, smirk on a face, or kicking a foot into the air, these two are pure joy to watch.
Gelb is also adorable when sitting on the settee with almost naked Trey. The raw sexual inquisitiveness and temptation throughout this scene is provocative to watch. Vincent Olivieri’s pulsating techno music in between scenes enhances the tension.
More SKINTIGHT references include a funny scene when multiple characters hold an ice pack to their face after an in-house Botox party in Elliot’s and Trey’s bedroom. Jodi refuses to join in, because “The lines on your face are your history. I don’t want to erase my history.”
Her gift to her father is a photo album of family memories. As they sit together reminiscing about their past, the discreet servant Jeff (Jeff Skowron) takes drink orders and returns with their request. I’m curious why Aukin didn’t have them sip their beverages while looking over the photos. It was odd to see a glass of wine, beer and water just sit there throughout the scene.
Why would a 70-year-old man be interested in a young man the same age as his grandson Benji? Elliot who has lived a successful life, believes “hot is everything.” He likes how Trey is hot, how is house is hot. Jodi is shocked with how shallow her father is about appearances.
Even though they seem like such an odd couple, Groener’s monologue about growing old and the beauty of waking up each morning to a “skintight” young viral body is understandable. He tells his daughter “I want to sleep in a bed made with Trey’s skin.” In SKINTIGHT, this multi-generational queer Jewish family, discovers lust is easy, love is hard.
Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A.
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 12
Info: (310) 208-5454 or geffenplayhouse.org
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission