“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?” Jean Kerr
Spoiled, self-absorbed Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) has landed unannounced on the Horatio Street doorstep of her father, successful clothing magnate (now emeritus) Elliot Isaac (Jack Wetherall). Her 50 year-old ex-husband is on the verge of marrying a “little spinner” (as in the exercise spinning), who’s all of 24. Struggling against her ego, not the least because she supported her spouse though successive cocamamie business pursuits, Jodi’s going to pieces.
“What do they even talk about?! I wanna see the transcripts!” Idina Menzel is as irritating as she’s meant to be and as utterly cliché. Timing and small, comic stage business is well handled by the actress. Her abrasive, signature voice goes far in coloring Jodi’s character.
Elliot is turning 70 which provides an excellent excuse to visit (from Los Angeles) despite his being adamant about not wanting to celebrate. Jack Wetherall is a perfect physical specimen for the role and it’s nice to see him working clothed after Talking Band productions. Unfortunately, the part is so underplayed, Elliot’s a cipher until a single unexpectedly effective speech towards the end of the piece.
In hopes of making the birthday a family weekend, Jodi insists her swishy-gay 20 year-old son Benjamin (Eli Gelb), majoring in “Queer Studies” at a school in – wait for it – Budapest, attend. (The family has Hungarian roots.) This apple doesn’t fall far from its tree. Consistently sulky and resentful, cloyingly cosseted-by-mama, Ben takes his privilege for granted. Eli Gelb brings him to focused, credible life.
Eli Gelb, Idini Menzel, Will Brittan
Historically absent and cold, the patriarch shows little sympathy. It would be difficult to find a better poster boy for society’s obsession with the youthful physical appearance Jodi blames for dissolution of her marriage. Elliot’s stylish, fabulously fit, and pumped with cosmetic fillers dispensed by in-home doctor attendance.
The wildcard in the group, or he would be were the play not written so predictably, is Elliot’s “partner,” 20 year-old Trey (Will Brittain), a trailer trash southern boy with a body so beautiful (you’ll have ample time to ogle as he parades in a jock strap) it’s allowed him to write his own entitlement rules despite lack of education, culture, manners and even faithfulness. Will Brittain inhabits the character.
Elliott, who moans he wants to make sheets out of the boy’s skin, is obsessed. Jodi wants Trey gone or at least relegated to minor importance like the other boys “daddy cycles through.” Ben is attracted.
Jack Wetherall, Idina Menzel, Eli Gelb
And there it is. Joshua Harmon has written a dog-walked-into-a-bar joke elongated into a cartoon-like, though not unamusing play. (His earlier work Significant Other also left internal lives untapped.) Before and after the explanatory speech referred to earlier, Skintight is completely one dimensional.
Also featuring Cynthia Mace as Hungarian housekeeper Orsolya, who manages vaudeville sight gags and Stephen Carrasco as houseman Jeff, a silent, subservient ex-lover.
Director Daniel Aukin excels in mining for laughs and uses the large set with skill. It’s hardly his fault that characters are written skin deep. Only Ben and, on one occasion, Elliott, have nuanced human moments.
Lauren Helpern’s urban, minimalist Set is early Calvin Klein grey on grey, with not a bit of personal decoration, suiting Elliott to a T.
Jess Goldstein’s Costumes package each cast member with perception.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Will Brittan (back), Jack Wetherall, Idina Menzel, Eli Gelb
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Skintight by Joshua Harmon
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Laura Pels Theater
111 West 46th Street
Through August 26, 2018