Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
“Under My Skin”: The Pasadena Playhouse Plays the Gender Game for Laughs
It makes great fodder for literature of one kind and another. Questions of understanding gender differences – what it is to be the gender one is not – have sparked books like “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” and all sorts of cross-dressing, gender-bending plot devices intended to explore the concept. Now playwrights Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser attack the topic in an often outrageous and rather salacious comedy, “Under My Skin” at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Refreshing and entertaining as the play makes it, the general plot device of the thing is hardly new. An accident which was not supposed to happen leads an angel to earth to reanimate the two people affected: the single, pompous top executive of a huge health insurance firm, and the Jewish “sandwich generation” single mother temping at his company. Through a mixup, each ends up in the other’s body, and must learn to cope both with differing financial circumstances, and the differing physicalities of being another gender.
In the hands of Sternin and Fraser, the results are fall-out-of-your chair funny, in some cases simply because they are so honest in addressing the base mechanics of gender difference and sexual response.
To keep the thing funny, it must be played straight – a task this delightful ensemble makes look deceptively easy. Matt Walton makes Harrison, the millionaire, a man constantly wresting with surprise as he must adjust from self-absorption to both the intricacies and indignities of the female body and basic demands of bread-winning. Erin Cardillo, as Melody, the struggling mom handed wealth and maleness, shows a kind of fascinated curiosity, particularly when coping with the responses this body must wrestle with, and the superfluous elements of privilege.
The cast supporting these two prove as filled with energy and rich character as the two leads. The great Hal Linden plays Melody’s forgetful grandfather with a self-deprecating air which keeps even the idea of aging lighthearted. Megan Sikora gives Melody’s big-hearted, low rent best buddy a sense of delight with life which establishes the gleeful undertone of the piece. Danielle Soibelman plays the truth of the snippy and resentful modern teenaged girl.
Perhaps best of all are Yvette Cason, Tim Bagley and Monette Magrath. The first plays the angel who sets the entire story in motion with a wit, practicality and humor which make her brief appearances among the play’s most memorable moments. The latter two play everyone else in the plot, from incidental characters to newscasters to doctors to (in Magrath’s case) Harrison’s somewhat aloof fiance. Their chameleon abilities keep things defined, and very lively.
Another star has to be John Iacovelli’s set – a riff on Mondrian-esque art which seems to define the urban world in which this takes place.
The vision of director Marcia Milgrom Dodge keeps this piece from becoming too formulaic or too cliche. The play is a risque one for the standard Playhouse audience, but under Dodge’s pacing, and focus on the clear-headed honesty of character and situation, the comedy wins over the shock value. Still, one must say that those who will be offended by this play, will be offended by this play. Don’t come if mention of the mechanics of sex and attraction bother you.
For everyone else, come have a good time. The play does have its preachy political side, arguing throughout for the humanizing of the 1%, and against the evils of the managed health care system. Yet, couched as it all is in light comic terms, the end result is the laughter of recognition rather than the bitterer chuckle of irony or sarcasm. In the end, a strong dose of humor and, just perhaps, a little insight into the gender you are not become the take-aways.
What: “Under My Skin” When: Through October 7, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $32 – $62, with Premium Seating available for $100. Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org