Age is but a number, and that phrase is a cliché you share to justify dating a 40-year old while in college. In “Skintight,” playwright Joshua Harmon attempts to justify the relationship between a twenty-year-old and seventy-year-old couple through the themes of beauty and youth. Does youth really make someone beautiful, or is it just lust?
The Roundabout Theatre Company commissioned and produced this play last year off-Broadway and this month “Skintight” just made its west coast premiere. In the show, Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) shows up to her father’s (Harry Groener) home in hopes to celebrate his seventieth birthday after her forty-something ex-husband gets engaged to a twenty-something woman. She wants to make it a family weekend and invites her son Benjamin (Eli Gelb) to alleviate her frustrations, but her plans get interrupted by a charming twenty-year-old man named Trey (Will Brittain) who is her father’s long-time partner.
The direction by Daniel Aukin puts all the conflict in a living room, centered around a couch. The minimalist contemporary set designed by Lauren Helpern opens the living room and crafts possibilities of secrecy in the hidden doors around the corners of the two-story set, adding to the ways in which actors can turn an entrance into a dramatic standstill. Each character utilizes movement to their advantage, except Brittain. His slow-motion walk is a bit off-putting. He uses it to introduce his attractive character to the world of the play as if it were a movie, but this is theatre. While other actors are moving at a typical speed, his slow movement feels like an unexpected health condition. But he isn’t ill or in pain, he’s just hot.
His physicality parallels with that of Jodi’s son. Benjamin walks in, gloats about his study abroad opportunities and waves his hand around like a spoiled college student. Trey has similar direction, except instead of waving his hand in ignorance, he rips off his shirt out of anger. While it can be dismissed as an excuse to strip on stage, it is a smart choice that exemplifies the age difference between Elliot and Trey.
Both Menzel and Groener bring the play to the audience, speaking out of the world of the play while also living in it. They tread the fourth wall to turn the realist play inside out and expose pieces of themselves and their character in a conversation with everyone sitting in front of them. When they look at you, they are looking at you and at the other side of the living room at the same time.
The musicality of movement is so well executed on both the actor’s and director’s parts. No moment is left unexplored. When Benjamin arrives at his grandfather’s home, his suspicions are very alive when he sees Trey. Gelb is specific in how he investigates the situation. His facial movements, posture and internal workings are visible from far away, defining the relationships he holds with everyone early in the show. It begins as a game of cat and mouse by how quippy he is with the attractive stranger, but smoothly eases into caution when he realizes where he last saw Trey.
Benjamin last saw Trey in gay porn.
Harmon’s writing knows how to pull people up to the edge of their seats on second and fall back in the next. From the second the lights go up, everything happens quickly and softens at the moments when the tension reaches its peak. The tug and pull complimented the direction, especially when touching on difficult topics of love and lust.
Elliot and Trey challenge what we think love looks like. In the entirety of the play it feels obvious it is lust. Elliot even mentions how he loves how Trey’s skin is tight around his body and how he would love to sleep in his skin. But then we see it in stillness. Aukin’s sparing use of stillness and silence heightens the juxtaposition with the intense trainwreck that is the Isaacs. Whether it be Trey in a jockstrap with Benjamin inching closer to his crotch, or Trey proposing to Elliot at the same couch the next day. Those frozen moments turned seconds into hours in the best way.
Trey sits nestled into Elliot’s chest, and after an hour hearing about how it is all about youth and lust, there is a glimmer of love unseen in previous scenes. Benjamin and Jodi stare as they make a home for themselves on the couch. It is still. Trey closes his eyes and Benjamin looks down at his fiancé while rustling his hair. Is this love?
The four of them look at a photo album and suddenly we see a family unit. “Skintight” normalizes homosexuality and the unconventional family. While it is easy to turn to beauty and youth as the central themes to the weekend filled with twists and turns for the Isaacs, what is central to the family is love. They all joke and play over the photos in the album and we see a family, regardless of age.
The whole family looks out to the audience, unsure what will happen next by the end of the play. It is an ominous, yet hopeful moment that left me wondering what would happen next. However, the sudden crash in silence leaves the message of the importance of youth and love hanging for someone to grab, but no one can reach it.
“Skintight” runs now through October 12th at the Geffen Playhouse. Tickets start at $30. More information can be found here.