Idina Menzel heads up a stellar ensemble in Joshua Harmon’s hilariously dysfunctional family comedy Skintight.
Menzel appears as the daughter of a filthy-rich men’s clothing designer in the show, reprising her role from a brief off-Broadway run at the Roundabout in 2018. On stage now through October 12th at the Geffen Playhouse, Skintight makes for riveting theater. It’s a crisp, biting satire that explores obsessions with youth, beauty and the transactional nature of human relationships — for those who can afford it.
Idina Menzel brings a next-level neurosis to Jodi, the 40-something divorcée whose husband has left her for a younger woman. She turns up in Manhattan to surprise her famous clothing designer father on his 70th birthday, only to find that he’s shacked up with a chiseled Adonis who’s the same age as the grandson who will be joining them for the soiree.
Eli Gelb is a revelation as Elliot’s gay grandson Benji. From the moment he appears on stage — before he even utters a word — Gelb’s body language and micro-expressions ratchet up the comedy. His droll dry wit and steady stream of eye rolls are alone worth the price of admission. He’s well positioned as the conscience of the piece, too; wise beyond his years and yet completely believable as the precocious truth-teller who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is or ask pointed questions. Benji is quick to point out the irony of his grandfather’s brand’s ubiquity in a country where their ancestors were exterminated.
He’s also well attuned to his heritage in ways that his mother and grandfather will never be. But he’s never maudlin, and his character is always in service to find that comic vein. At one juncture, Benji laments that he’ll actually miss being called fagele (Yiddish slang for fag) by his great grandmother once she’s passed. It’s certainly not politically correct, but in the hands of this team, it rings true and it’s damned funny.
Harry Groener is on-point as the fashion icon who waxes rhapsodic about Trey’s perfect skin he’s tempted to make sheets from it. Yet he’s quick to scold Trey when he steps out of line. The playwright has fun pushing the boundaries of the creepy factor, as Gramps reminds his very “out” grandson that Trey is off-limits.
Equally essential to the mix is the object of Elliot’s lust, his Midwestern boytoy Trey, played to perfection by Will Brittain. Besides physically embodying the role’s requirements, Brittain clearly knows the power of his sex appeal and uses it to great effect.
But Trey is more than just eye-candy. He brings an adroit manipulative skillset to offset his frat boy insouciance. Case in point: the scene where he nonchalantly joins Benji and his mom for a late night snack wearing nothing but a jock strap bearing the Elliot Isaac brand. He’s clearly marking his territory while making Benji and Jodi feel like the interlopers.
After a deliciously awkward exchange, Jodi announces that she and Benji have had it with Trey’s bare-assed bravado as she heads upstairs. Much to her consternation, Benji doesn’t follow her lead. The play is chock full of LOL moments like this, which the writer sprinkles liberally and equitably amongst his players, giving each a chance to shine with choice zingers that are always grounded in character.
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