My mother use to say, “Remember Bevie beauty is only skin deep. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Well mom, that theory is totally blown up in Joshua Harmon’s Skintight as the play grapples with the effects of aging and the worshipping of beauty inherent in youth.
Skillfully directed by Daniel Aukin, who kept the action moving at a brisk pace, here’s the plot line: Aging woman Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) is dumped by her husband who gets engaged to a 24-year-old big breasted woman named Madison. Her friends, as well as her gay son (Eli Gelb)all attend the celebration party. Jodi is very depressed and flies to New York to be with her father Elliot, (Harry Groener)who is about to turn 70. He is a highly successful designer living in a luxurious four-story townhouse in the city with 24-year-old Trey, (Will Brittain)a vacuous, but sexy former porn star with fabulous buns who has swung both ways. Also present is the dutiful houseboy Jeff (Jeff Skowron)who, it appears, once occupied the “lover” position. However, he is now resigned to do everyone’s bidding such as Trey commanding him, sans a “please,” to “Bring me a diet coke,” as if to emphasize his position in Elliot’s life. If this sounds a bit like a soap opera, I’ll get back to that later.
As the play unfolds, it is revealed that old dad is rather narcissistic and has been anything but a devoted parent, which has laid heavily on Jodi. A successful attorney, she is hoping, however, that under her depressing circumstances, he will be capable of offering her some tea and sympathy. She also wants him to get into celebrating his birthday but he warns that he doesn’t want anything special, especially, “No cowboy jumping out of a cake,” adding, “It’s not an achievement not to die.” Dad is really turned on by hunky Trey commenting, “I’d like to have sheets made from your skin.” Jodi takes an immediate dislike to the seemingly dumb Oklahoma born and bred lover and keeps asking him to leave so only the family is present. Plopping into a chair, he informs her “I live here. This is my home.” Jodi continues to harp on her disapproval of her dad’s relationship with Trey. He keeps defending his choice but despite professing how happy he is dad, who is also a recovering alcoholic, does not show outward signs of really being happy. Meanwhile Elliot’s grandson has flown in from Budapest for the birthday celebration where he shares that he is studying “queer theory.” Unlike his grandfather’s gay, young lover who does not display any overt physical manifestations that could be described as “swishy,” Benjamin is a walking illustration of a cliché physicality, but at no point does it appear layered on for effect, but rather an organically created stereotypical physical life. To complicate the plot, Benjamin is quite drawn to Trey, both of whom are the same age, and asks him why he would be with such an old man which causes grandpa to remind his grandson that Trey is his and warns him, “You can’t fuck your grandfather’s boyfriend,” who happens to be sporting a $450,000 watch. After taking Elliot out for a birthday seaweed wrap, in a surprise move, Trey offers a rather long birthday toast extolling all of Elliot’s wonderful qualities and how happy he is to be with him and at the end asks Elliot to marry him. Long, long pause following which the newly engaged Trey turns to a horrified Jodi and says, “You’re going to be my stepdaughter now.”
So, back to my comment as to whether this family dramedy could be considered soap opera. While walking a narrow tightrope, there are several elements that distinguishes this play from a daytime “soap” beginning with a well-written script. Add to that, sharp direction of a talented, professional cast, and a limited run vs. a serial, which is open ended. Also, there is a deeper level to this play in that it explores some elements of society’s fascination or even obsession with youth, relegating women, especially, to becoming invisible after a certain age. But, there’s a great line from Moonstruckwhere the Olympia Dukakis character of Rose Castorini, in referring to the professor’s propensity for dating students, says, “No matter how young they are, you’re still gonna’ die.” On the other hand, in defending his decision to be with a beautiful, sexy, much younger man, Elliot says, “Sex is life. I want to wake up next to life. I can have this so why the fuck not!”
Gil Cates Theater at The Geffen Playhouse
10866 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Playwright: Joshua Harmon
Director: Daniel Aukin
Scenic Designer: Lauren Helpern
Costume Designer: China Lee
Sound Designer: Vincent Olivieri
Tuesday-Friday: 8:00 pm
Saturdays: 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm
Sunday: 2:00 pm: & 7:00 pm
Closing: Saturday, October 12, 2019