by Jake Lipman · August 15, 2014
Playwright and director Anthony Joseph Giunta packs a strong psychological punch in the course of his 90-minute drama, Skin in the Game, thanks to nuanced character development and several fine performances.
Skin in the Game introduces us to a group of underprivileged prep school boys, facing off in a mysterious competition, at the end of which one of them may be rewarded with a full ride to the college of his choice, and another may not return home at all.
Like all good writers of thrillers, Giunta takes great pains to slowly reveal the connective tissue between and old scars upon his characters. We meet the three young contenders: handsome jock Kirk Kasiminski (played with heart by Chris Robertson), spoiling-for-a-fight Bran Olivetti (Andrew Gelles), and openly gay thespian Trent Summers (Luke David Young). Tensions rise as they travel to an abandoned Irish island to compete, at which point they meet their charming, if cryptic, benefactor, Andy Turnower (an equally charismatic Evan Leone) and a young classmate, Jay McGlinn (the powerful beyond his years Andrew Cekala). In flashbacks, we see Jay’s protective older brother, Patrick (delicately delivered by Tom Schmitt), and begin to piece together the group dynamic.
Additionally, I love that each character has both a first and last name—a seemingly small detail that bred familiarity, like the characters in the play were boys I grew up with, or knew from babysitting. Fortunately, Giunta does not rely on words alone to flesh out the men in Skin in the Game. From jockeying to see each other’s phones in the first scene to various forms of horseplay (both adversarial and brotherly), Giunta physically pushes his competitors together and apart, and through these entanglements, we learn a great deal about who they really are.
Using only pantomime to evoke their environments, the ensemble was largely successful at convincing me they were in a wide variety of locales, taking us from fighting in their Philadelphia school, to over-imbibing on a plane, to walking barefoot across a rocky wilderness. Given the complete lack of moving parts or set pieces onstage, however, I was dismayed that transitions dragged with murky entrances and exits. The production only very sparingly used lighting shifts and sound cues (the playbill credits Bryan Schall with sound and lights, but perhaps he was the board operator and not a designer). Nonetheless, once center stage, each actor fully embodied their surroundings and the play moved forward surefootedly.
As an ensemble piece with a taut script and nearly non-existent production needs, Skin in the Game seems suited to the festival circuit; the piece premiered in May of this year in the Pittsburgh Fringe and will make its way to the Philly Fringe in September. And while the piece was rather theatrical in its current execution, I thought several times that it would make a good film, given the high stakes and intriguing characters. Skin in the Game sets out to play a high stakes game and thanks to characters I rooted for till the end, that gamble pays off.