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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

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Braden Moran and Leah Dutchin star in Renaissance Theaterworks's new production of "Skin Tight."
Braden Moran and Leah Dutchin star in Renaissance Theaterworks's new production of "Skin Tight." (Photo: Ross Zentner)

Renaissance rings the right bells with moving "Skin Tight"

The past weekend was one about growing older and the memory of lives together in Milwaukee theater, themes that lit up two poignant productions.

The first example – Next Act's "Three Views of the Same Object" – was a courageous and moving production about the end of our lives and how we face that time. 

I followed that with "Skin Tight," the remounting of the hour-long play by Gary Henderson at Renaissance Theaterworks. Ten years ago, I saw the Renaissance production, and this time the company brought back the original cast and its original director, Laura Gordon.

This new version, running through April 27, is even richer and more nuanced than the original. It’s as if Gordon and stars Leah Dutchin and Braden Moran have lived these roles each day for the last decade and have just decided to show us how very much they have learned about life in that time.

The story is about love, but it is even more about life, the life that Tom and Elizabeth had in a New Zealand hamlet.

They bring to life the memory of their courtship, their first time, the war that interrupted their lives, the affair that almost did, the child they had who drifted so far away she seemed like a stranger, the love for the land and the loss of the farm they loved so much.

And while they revel in the vibrancy and vitality of the days of their youth, filled with sensuality and passions, they also hold each other close in order to share the disintegration and inevitable end of their lives.

At one point, while Tom is washing her hair, she asks, "Will you wash my body when I die?" He is frozen and struck mute with the very thought.

There is a turbulence to love and life, and Dutchin and Moran ride those waves with both an unyielding force and an enviable grace. Their performances drip with passion and with the kind of fears and regrets that mark all of our lives.

There is a significant amount of joyful abandon in "Skin Tight" as the young people slide willingly into their lives together. Laughs come easily. But underlying the humor is the incessant drumbeat of the tears and sorrows that wait for all of us.

Gordon steers the play into almost as much dance as drama. The choreography by Maria Gillespie and the additional fight choreography by Ryan Schabach is alive with the kind of power that commands your focus and attention.

Both Dutchin and Moran have an incredible chemistry and a kind of maturity that lets us see the places they have been and the places they are going. Their affection for each other is palpable, and they are brave enough to create some memorable moments before they move on to other matters.

Nothing about their lives has been clear or without some kind of regret.

"I thought love would be easy," Elizabeth says at one point.

She may have been talking about love, but in reality she was talking about life, from beginning until the end.

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