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A mother-and-son reunion with Wendy Melkonian and Jake Berne in playwright Joshua Harmon's "Skintight," at Actor's Express through October 13. It had a three-month off-Broadway run in summer 2018. (Photos by Casey Gardner)

Review: Actor’s Express opens new season with a laugh-filled and poignant “Skintight”

On paper, Skintight sounds like it might be racy and one-note. Onstage at Actor’s Express, the comedy, featuring the talents of longtime Atlanta actors Chris Kayser and Wendy Melkonian, reveals itself as refreshingly astute.

The script comes from Joshua Harmon, whose Bad Jews (didn’t see) and Significant Other (not a fan) were produced by the Express in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Skintight runs through October 13.

Trey (Truman Griffin, left), Benjamin (Jake Berne) and mom Jodi (Wendy Melkonian)

The setup is this. Los Angeles lawyer Jodi Isaac (Melkonian) decides to visit her fashion designer father, Elliot (Kayser), in New York for his 70th birthday. She discovers that Dad is dating a 20-year-old named Trey. She has long known that her father is gay, which presents no problem. Two things do hit home: that Dad’s beau is about the same age as her son and that her husband has taken up with a 24-year-old woman.

Harmon’s script is quite funny, with a lot of comic mileage coming from dad Elliot’s allegedly sizable manhood, a family tradition that, alas, has bypassed grandson Benjamin (Jake Berne). Assuredly directed by Freddie Ashley, the production has breezy and light moments but also unexpected poignancy, as Jodi sees her marriage fail while Elliot experiences the giddy joy of new romance.

The story hinges on whether Elliot is in love or in lust. His relationship with Trey seems real although other characters buzz about him being used as a sugar daddy. Trey (an on-the-mark Truman Griffin) is tough. He can be viciously mean and self-absorbed, but, ultimately, he just wants a family. Trey tries to seduce the others physically or emotionally, unabashedly walking around the house he shares with Elliot in only a jockstrap.

Chris Kayser (left) as Elliot and Truman Griffin as Trey

Kayser and Melkonian are the heart of the comedy. Melkonian is at her best as the needy Jodi, trying to understand her dad and everything happening around her, but she certainly lets us see the rage and sadness inside too. Kayser is sharp as a man with a renewed zest for life, making Elliot dignified and unashamed and no longer needing the approval of others. He has a beautiful speech near the end of the show about physical attraction and its importance.

A few nitpicks — Marianne Fraulo as the housekeeper Orsolya has many scenes of playful physical comedy, but her character is never fully developed, nor is the backstory between Elliot and an ex-lover/current employee named Jeff (Christopher Repotski). Berne works the comedy well enough, but his performance can feel too mannered.

Still, Skintight is mostly a swell ride. The comedy, which premiered last year in New York with Idina Menzel as Jodi, opens Actor’s Express’ 2019–20 season. It packs in the laughs but says a lot about beauty and aging as well. The final scene, which brings the entire “family” together, is among the most affecting I’ve seen in quite a while.