Eli Gelb, Idina Menzel, and Will Brittain in Joshua Harmon’s “Skintight,” directed by Daniel Aukin, at the Laura Pels Theatre through August 26. | JOAN MARCUS
In 2015 Joshua Harmon charmed audiences with “Significant Other,” a comic appraisal of a covetous gay man being stuck and single while his straight pals couple off and move forward. The Roundabout Theatre production resonated so forcefully that it made the leap to Broadway.
And now he’s back at the Roundabout with “Skintight,” another wry look at friction between loved ones, but this time it’s about the vagaries of family, beauty, and desire. And the protagonist, Jodi Isaac, is a straight woman who envies what her not-so-straight family members have.
Lucky for us, this woman is portrayed by none other than Idina Menzel, who is giving her vocal cords a rest with a rare turn in a non-musical. She’s so captivating, however, that she might as well be singing.
Idina Menzel shines in biting comedy about family, beauty, and fighting aging
Fortysomething Jodi has a problem — a thicket of problems, actually. Her husband dumped her for a much younger, shapelier woman and they’re having a large engagement party. So she flees LA to seek solace from her father (Jack Wetherall), a super-rich, iconic clothing designer named Elliot Isaac (think Calvin Klein) who lives in a sleek townhouse in Manhattan’s West Village.
Using her father’s 70th birthday as a pretext for a surprise visit, Jodi is crestfallen when he receives her coolly. Turns out he’s got Trey (Will Brittain), a ripped, 20-year-old boytoy, living with him and isn’t ready to put his life on hold for his needy daughter. Or her spoiled son, Benjamin (a droll Eli Gelb), who is studying queer theory abroad and also shows up unannounced. The fact that her father’s “partner” is the same age as Benjamin unnerves poor Jodi to the extreme.
Under the direction of Daniel Aukin (he also helmed “Bad Jews,” Harmon’s breakout play), the entire cast is quite good. Menzel displays vicious comic chops, lending a frantic desperation to Jodi that burns ever more intensely throughout the proceedings.
The gorgeously muscled Brittain is a stunner, and not only in the looks department. His Trey reveals surprising emotional elasticity, musing about his hardscrabble boyhood in Oklahoma, the wonders of the Uffizi, and how relationships are hard work. And while some might argue his invasion of the living room wearing nothing but a jockstrap (emblazoned with the Elliot Isaac logo, natch) and exposing his “juicy ass” to a shocked Jodi and Benjamin is a tad contrived, it is in keeping with his cocksure character. Not to mention fertile ground for comedy.
Cynthia Mace and Stephen Carrasco, as the dutiful housekeeping staff, make big impressions in tiny roles. Their brilliantly timed sight gags involving suitcases, flowers, and ice packs are laugh-out-loud funny.
Not that there’s much of a plot or solid through-line. The looming question of “Will the birthday party that Jodi insists on throwing against her father’s wishes go off without a hitch?” is far from a nail-biter. We already know the unhappy answer.
Harmon has spiked the dialogue with copious jokes about Botox, gay porn, and massive penises. Other questions, such as whether, in our youth obsessed culture, outward “hotness” always wins over inner beauty, are worth considering.
When Benjamin, who is gay, presses Trey about his sexuality, he replies, in his good ol’ boy Southern twang, “I don’t do labels, man… I’m just Trey. I just care about the person inside.”
Of course, that’s easy for a hunk like him to say. The fact that we aren’t sure we can believe him and have no clear-cut answer to the inner-versus-outer beauty debate is one of the many elements that make this “Skintight” so irresistibly alluring.
SKINTIGHT | Roundabout Theatre Company, Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. | Through Aug. 26: Tue.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m.; Wed & Sat. at 2 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m. | $79-$99 at roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300 | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission