Theater Preview: SKINTIGHT (Geffen Playhouse)

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by Frank Arthur on September 7, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles

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Joshua Harmon’s new play Skintight assays the nature of love, the power of attraction, and the ways in which a superficial culture persists in teaching its children that all that matters is what’s on the inside. This dramedy completed its successful run at Roundabout in NY, and opens at The Geffen Playhouse this week with original star Tony-winner Idina Menzel in her first non-musical role. Also on board are her fellow original Off-Broadway cast members Will Brittain and Eli Gelb. New to Los Angeles are Harry Groener as Elliot, Kimberly Jürgen as Orsolya, and Jeff Skowron as Jeff (the video below is from the NY production.)

Menzel stars as Jodi Isaac, who moves into her famous dad’s Manhattan townhouse after she finds out her ex-husband moved in with a younger woman. Dad’s new boyfriend Trey is a hunky 20-year-old who offers more than just good looks. The drama, about youth, beauty, sex, and family, is directed by Daniel Aukin. When I went to review the highly recommended Witch the other night, I stood in the lobby during a Skintight preview, and it warmed my heart to hear an audience laughing with abandon as in the days when Neil Simon’s plays trod the boards on Broadway.

Playwright Joshua Harmon is quickly becoming our modern-day Simon offering fiercely funny yet poignant plays but with an even greater penchant for biting commentary. Harmon has said that he becomes “really engaged by plays that are character-driven and that are grappling with some kind of moral question.”

In the crude, rude and sometimes lewd Bad Jews (2012) — the third most-produced play in America in the 2014-2015 season, including a rock’em-sock’em production at the Geffen — Harmon’s outspoken dark-comedy pits firebrand Jewish cousins against each other, with two more loved ones caught in the cultural crossfire. The result is a more than spirited debate about the peril and promise of choosing love over faith. What happens, Harmon loudly inquires, when religion not only doesn’t have all the answers–but seems part of the problem?

Significant Other (2015) offers a character study that takes a devilish delight in not sparing us the sometimes-grungy details of one guy’s frenetic search for happiness. Lacerated, even eviscerated, the central character Jordan harks back to the bad old days of the lonely homosexual: Like the catty creatures in Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band, he will never hear someone say, “I love you.” Call it “The Importance of Being Desperate.” This bitter, somewhat sweet, drama still manages to make us laugh.

Produced last year at Lincoln Center Theater, Admissions (2018) arrived too early to address the recent scandal involving illegal offenses in college admissions — bribes, cheating and gaming the system by rich parents with underachieving children. (Felicity Huffman was still in the future). But this one-act remains topical, thanks to its sardonic take on liberal guilt over affirmative action and its exposure of double standards for entitlement and merit.

In Skintight, Harmon brings neurotic family drama to the forefront as father and daughter contend with the age-old questions of how to age gracefully in a world obsessed with youth … and where love fits into it all.

photos by Chris Whitaker

Skintight
Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse
10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on October 6, 2019
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visit Geffen Playhouse

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