nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 13, 2006
Jeffrey Essmannn hasn't performed in New York in about a decade. But after seeing his smart, hilarious show Skin Deep, I hope he'll be hanging around for a long, long while. I will certainly want to see whatever he does next.
An hour-long performance play comprised of six monologues, Skin Deep sneaks up on its audience, gradually revealing itself to be a brilliant deconstruction/exploration of the Art of Being Shallow. Essmann disarms us with his opening piece, "Autobiography: Some of This Is True" in which he shares observations both glib and dazzlingly original about his family, his childhood, his 10-year sabbatical from performing, and his sex life (among other subjects). It all sounds deliciously confessional, even as he assures us that it's not: the title of the piece, which he repeats more than once in the course of this monologue, kicks in as we near the end and we start to understand that we just may have been, at least a little bit, had.
Essmann takes on other personas in the remaining segments. In "Mal," he's a fashion designer eulogizing his father (at one point, he muses about how lucky his father is to be spending eternity surrounded by organza). In "Deb," he's a dim but questing soul looking for enlightenment and thrills in a Buddhist e-temple. In "Clive, Lord Thatch-Hewitt," he's an ultra-repressed Brit whose fixation on touching young men seems to be a little too much about him. And in "Vivyen," he's the head of a Martha Stewart-ish fashion magazine empire (one of this character's observations—about how the Egyptians, who had already discovered the importance of mascara, were maybe 50 years away from creating a fashion magazine—blew me away).
Essmann is smart and dry and consistently on target. He's also a splendid actor, creating these diverse characters with, at most, the addition of a wig, plus plenty of ripe attitude.
Skin Deep is like a mirror, which means its self-centered characters would presumably enjoy it as much as the rest of us. It's a great addition to this year's HOT! Festival.