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Eli Gelb, Idina Menzel and Will Brittain                          (Joan Marcus)



                                                 By David Schultz

Playwright Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews, Significant Others, Admissions) offers a tantalizing idea for a play. The bare bones outline is given at the outset. There are actually few surprises in store, but the impeccable cast with assured direction by Daniel Aukin makes this work soar. Elliot Isaac (Jack Wetherall), a wealthy clothing and underwear designer, thinly based on Calvin Klein is on the cusp of celebrating his 70th birthday. Hopefully low-key and in peace mind you. That’s not in the cards, as we find out in the first scene. Daughter Jodi (Idina Menzel) bursts through his Tony digs on Horatio Street in the West Village. Having just flown in unexpectedly from LA, she wants to celebrate her dad’s birthday. This is just a subterfuge for her own wounded bird moment…. her husband has just dumped her for a 24-year old and she is livid and burning up in anger.

Elliot has a few things that he would rather keep under wraps. His newfound ‘boy-toy’ Trey (Will Brittain) is all of 20 years old. Which makes this visitation even more maddening for Jodi. Add to this age defying time gap, Jodi’s own son Benjamin (Eli Gelb) is the same exact age as Trey. Adding more to the potential doom-laden scenario the fact that Benjamin is flying in soon as well to celebrate his grandfather’s birthday and all the chess pieces are set up and ready to go. Trey meets Jodi with a cautious demeanor, as he continually calls Elliot his ‘partner’, as well as frequently calling him “Babes” at every chance he can get. Trey needs to assert his ownership to his newfound space and senses his own survival is at risk with Jodi ready to go ballistic with her unchecked emotions at the forefront. Jodi’s goal is to make her father come to her way of thinking and stop this from progressing any further. Elliot has become smitten, is enamored with Trey’s physical beauty. At one private moment with Trey he musses (“I’d like to sleep on sheets made from your skin”). There is even a sense of seeing Trey, through Elliot’s eyes as a much younger version of himself, in a scrappy, bold and brash way. The characters clash and verbally parry with innumerable arguments over the power of age, beauty, compatibility, feelings of belonging, and what really matters skin-deep or even further down to unknown levels.  

Benjamin is totally at ease with his own gayness, and is intrigued and slightly turned on by Trey during his visit. There is a great disparity between the nerdiness of Benjamin’s persona and Trey’s cocky buffed jock, as they warily circle around each other. At one point Jodi and Benjamin have a son-to-mother chat…. “What matters is who somebody is on the inside” Jodi gamely posits to he son. “That’s what matters. Not looks”. Benjamin has more pithy thoughts as he retorts; “I think that message got lost like somewhere around the war over Helen of Troy”. The loose fitting play goes back and forth with all manner of snarky dialogue as playwright Harmon plays with the audience’s perceptions and misconceptions on age and the infinite power of youth. What’s really, really important? In a quiet moment shared late at night with Trey and Benjamin, of his relationship with Elliott: “I just care about the person inside”…Trey pleads to Benjamin, who calmly states with a sense of ennui, “I’m sorry, but no one cares about the person inside”.

Two other characters are on the periphery of the play, the Hungarian maid Orsolya (Cynthia Mace) and the dutiful butler Jeff (Stephen Carrasco). They comment on the manic proceedings in quiet droll ways that speak mountains without making any noise. A wry look, glance or sigh…. as they go about their daily chores for the rich folks they work for.  The minimal suspense for the remainder of the play moves on in fits and starts. The true pleasure and joy of the work is seeing the intricate dance of verbosity and physical distances that drive them apart. The emotional blocking and slow inexorable meeting of heart and intellect is what drives the show. 

Set designer Lauren Helpern’s extreme modern grey monochromatic two-story set with an imposing staircase is a cool chilly counterpoint to the hothouse temperature of the denizens that reside within. The jokes and snarky repartee bounce off of everyone involved in rapid fusillades of dialogue. It’s only in a few rare moments of introspection that true pearls of wisdom are left to savor. Love…to love another human being…. the importance of true erotic feelings to life itself…. finding what really matters, and being true to yourself, all other people be damned in the process…. are gingerly touched upon. But it is at these moments the true meaning of connecting and letting ones own unfettered raw emotions be released does the play go into uncharted waters. 


Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre

Laura Pels Theatre

111 West 46th Street


Playing through August 26th