Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review of "Under My Skin" - Off-Broadway

Under My Skin, the new Off-Broadway comedy, uses the conceit of body swapping as a vehicle for a not-so-subtle swipe at the health insurance industry.  Harrison Badish III (Matt Walton), a pompous, chauvinistic health care executive, and Melody Dent (Kerry Butler), a part-time employee, accidentally die in an elevator mishap.  Complaining about their untimely death to a workaholic angel, they are resurrected before emergency workers arrive.  Unfortunately, Badish is now in the body of Dent and vice versa.  This triggers a number of life altering as well as comedic events within their personal lives as they try to deal with family, friends, and relationships while within their new identities. 

Playwrights Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser, who cut their writing teeth on television sitcoms, put a sexier spin on this tried and true entertainment formula.  With some biting commentary on the timely topic of health insurance the comedy, more so then not, is able to straddle the humorous with the serious.  What separates the play from a more mundance rendering is how, eventually, the characters in the show become more nuanced then originally presented.  Not all the twosome’s jokes and topsy-turvey scenarios hit their mark, but there is enough amusing dialogue and humorous machinations to keep the show fresh and appealing.  A lot of the credit goes to the two leads—Matt Walton and Kerry Butler.  Walton, as the egocentric Badish, is too obnoxious and one-dimensional when first introduced but, as the play develops, he becomes, dare I say, likeable.  Butler, one of my favorite actresses, is more at home doing comedy.  While having notable roles in such recent shows as the musical Catch Me If You Can and the drama The Best Man Butler, with charm and likeability that few performers possess, is better suited for parts that make us laugh.  Now, all we need is someone to write a great comedic, preferably musical, role for her.  Megan Sikora as Nannette, Melody Dent’s best friend, is over-top, vivacious and libidinous.   Played, initially, for easy laughs, by the show’s happy ending she has become a more sympathetic and multi-layered character.  Edward James Hyland, as Dent’s grandfather, Poppa Sam, is outrageously funny and steals every scene he appears in. 

Director Kirsten Sanderson ensures enough laughs during the 90-minute, intermission-less comedy, but also balances the guffaws with a serious undercurrent.  Some of the scenes with the bumbling angel, Dierdre Friel, need a different approach as they generate few laughs and upset the rhythm of the production which, overall, is breezy and light.  She gives Matt Walton and Kerry Butler plenty of room to show their feminine and masculine side, respectively. 

Under My Skin, a playful and somewhat amusing show with a message.

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