If you believe the company’s own press releases about the show, then the new Actor’s Express production of “Skintight” “hilariously excoriates America’s obsession with youth, sex and physical beauty.” But even if you don’t, even if the play ultimately seems to embrace and celebrate those ostensible virtues instead, well, at least it does that pretty hilariously, too.
The comedy is written by the up-and-coming Joshua Harmon, no stranger to Express audiences, who enthusiastically responded to his earlier works, “Bad Jews” (2015) and “Significant Other” (2016). While I missed seeing the first of those two productions and wasn’t exactly enamored of the second, I’ve got to admit “Skintight” essentially had me at “hello.”
That’s because the lights initially rise on the thoroughly disarming sight of Wendy Melkonian as Jodi Isaac, a lately frustrated middle-aged California divorcee who arrives at the swanky New York townhouse of her father, Elliot (Chris Kayser), to commemorate his 70th birthday—whether or not the iconic fashion designer is really interested in observing it himself. “Please,” she implores him. “I need somebody to be excited to see me when I walk into a room.”
Duh! To hear that opening line uttered by one of Atlanta’s most gifted comedic actresses is tantamount to some kind of an in-joke. And it sets in motion what soon develops into a more outward and fairly unyielding barrage of barbed zingers that persists for the next couple of hours, under the brisk and crackling direction of artistic director Freddie Ashley.
Jodi may think she has enough to contend with, just dealing with her ex-husband’s recent engagement to a much younger woman—but she has another thing (or two) coming, once she is eventually introduced to Elliot’s new “partner,” Trey (Truman Griffin), a dim-witted country boy and studly porn star who’s all of 20. Further complicating the situation is her son, Benjamin (Jake Berne), who stops by for the weekend on his way back from studying “queer theory and Yiddish culture” in the Isaac ancestors’ native Hungary.
Aside from being exceedingly funny, if not downright uproarious, Harmon does a masterful job of striking a delicate balance and skirting around the play’s potential distastefulness. A good many of the show’s best one-liners are hardly suitable for mentioning here. My favorite is probably Jodi’s offhanded remark upon seeing Benjamin’s photos from his trip to Budapest: “It’s stunning,” she exclaims. “I don’t know why our family ever left!” (Uh, maybe it had something to do with the imminent Nazi occupation of Hungary?)
The plot thickens uncomfortably, as Benjamin gradually grows smitten with his grandfather’s new “boy toy.” And, although his sex appeal is unmistakable long before an extended scene in a skimpy jockstrap, it could be a weakness in the writing that actor Griffin doesn’t satisfactorily delineate all of Trey’s ambiguities. He’s generally sweet-natured, and yet awfully mean-spirited towards Elliot’s assistant (a deadpan Christopher Repotski). Is the character a money-grubbing interloper, or does he feel a genuine affection for Elliot?
The peerless Kayser has a rather thankless task in terms of playing the relative straight-man of the piece. Similarly, you might be tempted to dismiss the role of Elliot’s housekeeper as a waste of veteran actress Marianne Fraulo’s estimable talents—mainly involving a humorous running gag about her slowly schlepping luggage up and down a flight of stairs.
Without divulging the play’s happy ending, to label “Skintight” as excoriating may be pushing it, but when Fraulo translates an old Hungarian postcard in one scene, she provides a much-needed and greatly appreciated moment of restraint and poignancy in an otherwise flat-out hysterical comedy.
Through Oct. 13. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 5 only). $20-$35. Actor’s Express (at King Plow Arts Center), 887 W. Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-607-7469. actors-express.com.
Bottom line: More superficial than profound, but loaded with plenty of laughs.
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