Tag Archives: Joshua Harmon


To experience a thing as beauty means: to experience it necessarily wrongly.Nietzsche

For Elliot Isaac (Harry Groener)—70-year-old chairman emeritus of a definitive American fashion brand, ensconsed in what looks like a John Pawson-designed residence with a thick slab of 20-year-old meat named Trey (Will Brittain)—lust is the drug, and the drug is life.

Elliot and Trey’s happy West Village home has been invaded by Elliot’s daughter Jodi and her son Benjamin, both of whom have dropped in unannounced to celebrate the paterfamilias’ birthday. Jodi—in dire need of a shoulder to kvetch on because her ex-husband just married a 24-year-old woman—is in no mood to deal with daddy’s latest trick, no matter how many times Trey insists that he and the iconic designer are “partners.” (The only thing that comes between Trey and his benefactor is an Elliot Isaac jockstrap.)

So begins Joshua Harmon’s new comedy SKINTIGHT, “a funny play about sad people,” in the words of its playwright—saddened, no doubt, by the transactional nature of life and its inherent betrayals. Turning disenchantment into scorched-earth comedy is Harmon’s signature, and the Geffen Playhouse production of SKINTIGHT features a pair of master class performances in the art of landing and sustaining a joke.

Elliot’s birthday—which he has no interest in celebrating—is an excuse for his daughter to weigh in on a lifetime of paternal abandonment. And if Jodi (Idina Menzel, running on all cylinders in a part written for her) excoriates everyone around her with slashing wit and mock pathos, Benjamin (Eli Gelb), in a series of slo-mo reaction takes, gets the big laughs. Watching mother and son conspire to rid the family house of its interloper, share a porn video, or compete for queer cultural-awareness points is pure voyeuristic pleasure. (Not to mention Trey—Will Brittain—in the aforementioned jockstrap, which provides a marvelous Act Two sight gag for Menzel.)

Near the end of the play, Jodi, in a last attempt at connection, asks her father (Harry Groener) to explain the importance of “hotness,” a marketing concept that has generated untold wealth for the family. Elliot launches into an extended verbal essay on the beauty of Trey’s skin and the smell of sex in the morning. Jodi feels that her father is confusing his appreciation of Trey’s pulchritude with love: “That’s lust. Lust is easy. Love is hard.”

But Jodi—and Nietzsche—have it wrong, at least in the case of Elliot. Jodi was raised by a man whose first desire and last remaining vice is the possession of things and their surfaces. For Elliot, “love” and “lust” are distinctions without a difference.

After all, one suspects that Elliot doesn’t love Trey more or less than any number of boys he’s gone through over the decades, including Jeff (Jeff Skowron), the once-young, now-middle-aged majordomo Elliot employs. It’s just that Elliot is now in his eighth decade and this might be his valedictory ride around the rodeo: Trey is the last trick up his perfectly cuffed sleeve.

SKINTIGHT was directed by Daniel Aukin and the scenic design is by Lauren Helpern.


Through October 12.

Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood, Los Angeles.

Joshua Harmon, Skintight, Geffen Playhouse, September–October 2019, from top: Idina Menzel; Eli Gelb and Menzel; Will Brittain and Harry Groener; Gelb, Menzel, and Brittain; Gelb and Brittain; Menzel and Groener; Groener, Menzel, Gelb, and Brittain; Gelb and Menzel. Photographs by Chris Whitaker.



“Shame is an important and beautiful tool… The problem for me is that so many writers write without shame.” – Édouard Louis*

Playwright Joshua Harmon – a comic obsessive well versed in mortification – is the moody love child of Mart Crowley and Edward Albee, and if Bad Jews (at the Geffen Playhouse three summers ago) is Harmon’s Virginia Woolf, then SIGNIFICANT OTHER is his empathetic, mixed-gender Boys in the Band.

“He’s writing about himself,” a theatergoer next to me said after the SIGNIFICANT OTHER curtain call this weekend. Indeed, with his new play, Harmon takes a scalpel to Jordan – the author’s stand-in – and his circle of friends with granular precision. The brilliantly staged and performed production at the Geffen plays for three more weeks.

Jordan is unhappily single, slightly schlumpy, and morbidly fearful of ending up alone. (Will Von Vogt is a much better fit for the role than his Broadway predecessor Gideon Glick, who is trim and would have no trouble attracting suitors.) Transfixed by the physical beauty of a new co-worker, Will (John Garet Stoker), Jordan holds forth on this and other matters with his three best friends: Kiki (Keilly McQuail, a Rhonda Lieberman monologue come to life), Vanessa (a slightly less snarky book editor played by Vella Lovell), and sensible, grounded Laura (Melanie Field).

One by one Jordan’s chosen family abandons him as each of the women finds a partner and plans a wedding, and Jordan is consigned to the role of “Constant Reader,” the unattached gay man who reads a poem or literary passage at the ceremony. Things reach a second-act breaking point during a party leading up to Laura’s marriage. Jordan, in an eviscerating monologue, can’t fathom how his formerly edgy crew would debase themselves in pursuit of all the capitalistic pleasures (like out-of-town wedding parties) he actually longs to share with a love of his own, if only he could find him.

Jordan’s (and Harmon’s) attack on bourgeois excess speaks to the psychosis of the modern marketplace and its endless treadmill of desire and dissatisfaction. The closet door of Crowley and Albee’s time has been blown off its frame, but the generation that followed – looking, longing, drowning in a sea of “freedom” – has yet to find its way.



GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood, Los Angeles.


*Édouard Louis and Zadie Smith in conversation: documentjournal.com/edouard-louis-zadie-smith

Above: Will Von Vogt and Melanie Field in Significant OtherGeffen Playhouse, April 2018.

Bottom: Keilly McQuail, Von Vogt, Field, and Vella Lovell.

Photographs by Chris Whitaker.

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