What did we do before elevators? In Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser’s new play, “Under My Skin” which is making its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, an elevator (scenic design by John Iacovelli) has a major role but it won’t make you fear them as death traps (okay, maybe just a little). This zany look at love, sex, death and healthcare will have you screaming with laughter.
Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge promises that you’ll enjoy this production and I think you will. The pacing must have changed because according to the program, the play was originally performed with no intermission. That might have been too long or have gone too fast. This version, with a 15-minute intermission, feels right and despite the playwrights’ credentials in TV (Fran Drescher’s “The Nanny” and “Who’s the Boss?”), “Under My Skin” never has that sitcom feel and there’s definitely no need for a laugh track.
You’ll immediately know from the accents that we’re in New York. Melody Dent (Erin Cardillo) is a perky single mother with a working class New Yorker whine, taking care of her angry teen daughter Casey (Danielle Soibelman) and her increasingly senile father Sam (Hal Linden). She’s been laid off from her job as assistant branch manager to a bank (“You know all those banks that were too big to fail? Ours wasn’t one of them.”) Now she and her sexpot best friend Nanette (Megan Sikora) are temps at Amalgamated Heathcare.
The cocky CEO Harrison Badish (Matt Walton) surrounds himself with a thick air of entitlement. He enlists Melody to carry his coffee in the elevator. It’s an old building and the ride can bumpy. He doesn’t want to ruin his suit. When an elevator malfunction leaves the two dead, their no-nonsense angel (Yvette Cason) is befuddled. According to her appointment book, it isn’t their time to die and she mixes up their souls in the wrong body. Fixing this mess up requires a bit of bureaucratic paperwork and she departs to work things out, leaving the two in a gender-bending bind.
As you can imagine, the tall hairy Walton (“Burn After Reading”) in a candy pink dress is hilarious, but Cardillo (“The Suite Life on Deck”) also gets plenty of laughs as well. Both Walton and Cardillo plumb the physical humor and exploit the script with good comedic timing. The sound design (by Philip G. Allen) adds to the humor. While nothing is crude, the script does get a bit racy. Nanette keeps her phone “in my pocket on vibrate so that no call goes unappreciated” and Cardillo’s Harrison has a close encounter with his high maintenance fiancée (Monette Magrath).
Sternin and Fraser are husband and wife and there’s an equal skewering of both men and women with a good dose humorous affection for both in this script. The focus is not on gender issues, but on the healthcare system and the differences between the haves and have-nots. As Harrison sums up, “Our business is healthcare, but I’m not sure if we’re caring enough.” If you’ve dealt with health insurance before, you’ve probably had that feeling as well. Most disease du jour movies and plays are either dry intellectual prose or soppy tear jerkers. Sternin and Fraser have given this issue a painless rom-com treatment that may be the best medicine at all.
“Under My Skin” continues until October 7 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. $32-$100. Call (626) 921-1161 or go to www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.