"Skintight": Love, Lust, Beauty
and Idina Menzel
|Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, New York City.
Company/Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company
Playwright: Joshua Harmon, Director: Daniel Aukin
212-719-1300 www. RoundaboutTheatre.Com
Opened June 21, 2018, closes Aug 26, 2018.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
I did not see Joshua Harmon’s " Bad Jews"
which, by general consensus, is his best play to date. But the last
three Harmon plays that I did see, "Significant Other,"
"Admissions" and the still running "Skintight"
– it closes on August 26th – each, a familiar mixture
of comedy and drama containing everything and the kitchen sink, come
across less a play, more a TV sitcom in which the playwright’s
comedic hand overrides most everything important that is being said.
A shrinking violet he isn’t.
I am especially thinking of Gideon Glick’s gay
character in "Significant Other" who laments the fact that
all of his girlfriends, one by one, are getting married while he is
still single. Then there is white teenager Ben Adelman’s 17
minute yowl in "Admissions" which deals with racial quota
issues that keep him from being accepted at Harvard.
Both of these heartfelt outpourings, as TV sitcoms do, are housed
among a plethora of comedic zingers. It is as if several shots of
sugar are required to help the medicine go down.
Still, bitching and moaning aside, Harmon’s provocative and
wonderfully wordily written wailings, emotionally delivered by a major
character or two, do give us something to mull over which is more
than most playwrights have to offer.
The star and calling card of "Skintight" which gives the play its commercial
legs, is Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked, If/Then) in her first non-singing
role. As Jody Elliot, from her initial entrance which has her arriving
unexpectedly on the eve of her long-divorced father’s 70th birthday,
till the stage lights go down, Jody plays the diva card.
We know that trouble is on its way when her father, who also hates
surprises, reminds his daughter, several times at that, that he explicitly
told her that he didn’t want to do anything special for his
But for the self-involved, demanding, and annoyingly unsympathetic
Jody, whose ugliness is not exactly fun to watch during most of the
play, his admonishment falls on deaf ears, as she has her own needs
triggered by her 50-year old husband leaving her for a 24-year old
spinning instructor, half her age, “with perky tits.”
Of course this leads to incessant worrying on Jody’s part, as
to her own shelf life. What follows is much talk about youth and beauty,
love and lust, coupled with jokes about whether or not she looks her
age or needs Botox, all familiar chestnuts thrown into the mix when
better ideas are not forthcoming. Also making several appearances
throughout is talk of asses and big dicks, the latter of which apparently
runs in the family.
Shifting focus, Harmon does rescue the play a wee bit by showing Jody’s
softer side, her loving, albeit overbearing relationship with her
twenty-year-old son Benjamin Cullen (an intensely believable Eli Gelb)
who she also invites to New York to celebrate her father’s birthday.
But this soft side dwindles as her problematic relationship with her
father Elliot Issac (nicely played by Jack Wetherall), a Calvin Klein
type fashion mogul and his newly acquired, mostly monosyllabic
twenty- year- old ex-porn star lover interestingly named Trey (Will
Brittain), takes center stage.
Handsome and well-muscled, Trey ruffles the feathers of everybody
in the house, cast and audience alike. Exacerbating the situation
for both Benjamin who has problems with his own sexual identity, and
Jody who dislikes her father’s partner and makes no bones about
it, is Trey’s nonchalant nighttime appearance wearing only a
jock strap. This later leads to visual jokes and audience laughter
when Jody realizing she is sitting on the exact spot where the naked
Trey placed his butt on the couch earlier immediately changes her
seat. I might add The Couch, where the majority of the play’s
most important moments take place, if not exactly a cast member is
the starring piece of furniture in Lauren Helpern’s minimally
designed, two-leveled set, the second level leading to numerous bedrooms
As far as background checks, the playwright does supply a slim biographical
history for each character, enough to enable the play to slide past
without any drain on the brain. Elliot, though retired, is chairman
emeritus and chief stockholder of his fashion company. He is also
supporting Trey, who he met in Florida in high style. An example of
the lavish lifestyle Trey enjoys is the $450,000 Rolex that Elliot
bought for Trey. Jody is a lawyer working for one of the largest law
firms in Los Angeles. She has two sons, her favorite being Benjamin
who is gay, self-conscious about his less-than- handsome looks, and
is studying Queer Theory in Budapest.
While Benji, as his mother affectionately calls him, is interested
in his Hungarian roots - the Issacs’ are originally from Budapest
and a few were unable to make it out of Hungry before the Holocaust.
Benjamin is also sexually interested in Trey which does not go unnoticed
by Jody or Elliot, or for that matter Trey. As far as Jody’s
soon to be ex, he is summed up as a failing and “pretending”
almond farmer with two weak knees and lots of hair coming out of his
What little we know about Trey is that he now rides a motorcycle,
has had a “really rough life” and he only participated
in porn in order to eat. He, also as he claims, is still making it
with girls. Other than his truly loving Elliot and the lifestyle this
affords him, Trey’s early life is left up to our imagination.
The most compelling portion of the play, which temporarily obliterates
all that comes before, takes place near the very end of the play.
Here Elliot and Jody who has been vehemently against his relationship
with Trey to the point of trying to wreck it, go head to head, a showdown
so to speak, in which both characters discuss at length their own
take on love and lust.
Elliot’s passionately delivered soliloquy and Jody’s response,
different sides of the same coin – the take home part of the
play – are worth the price of admission alone. Though both have
their points of view, most certainly their respective ages, gender,
and cultural norms have a lot to do with this.
Personaaly, I have to side with Elliot, as lust, which
greases my joints, and has always allowed me to move more freely,
both mentally and physically, is my favorite virtue. Like Elliot,
I too “…want to wake up in the morning and smell sex.
I want to taste it. I want to see it. I want to touch it. I want to
feel it. Sex is life.”
This is my story too and I am sticking to it.