In the Raw 


When Kate Donadio's frustrated wife, Julie, begins chopping a vegetable in the world premiere of Skin, audiences can be forgiven for thinking that playwright Steve Yockey is foreshadowing some unspeakable deed to come. In his previous works such as Sleepy and Cartoon, Yockey frequently put the extremities of human behavior onstage.

It turns out, however, that the key prop in the scene isn't the knife but the vegetable. With Martha Stewart-like efficiency, Julie cuts cucumber slices to place on her eyes at night, both to prevent dark circles and put up a personal shield in her unhappy bedroom. Although Skin builds to some moments of cruel and unsettling behavior, the violence remains emotional, not physical.

Skin belongs in the class of raw, raunchy plays such as Patrick Marber's Closer by tracking the power dynamics of love and sex among smart urbanites: new lovers Martin and Laura (Joe Sykes and Angelyn Pass) and jaded marrieds Julie and Smith (Kate Donadio and Theroun Patterson). Unlike Closer, Skin features generally credible roles and relationships as well as empathy for the characters as their desires prompt them to act against their best judgment. Director Kate Warner helps ensure that the show's occasional nudity feels appropriate and not like the world's biggest distraction.

Like a carnivore among prey, Alison Hastings plays Kyle, a young woman who pursues indiscriminate, consequence-free sex at every opportunity. Hastings' physical presence and the spare details in Yockey's writing suggest a person with little emotional life beyond her body. While Kyle comes across an unexpected reminder of her "old" life, Hastings performs a remarkably affecting breakdown scene.

Despite a pessimistic attitude, Skin features cheerful flourishes of humor, particularly when two of the characters turn out to be co-workers and share some inappropriate office conversation. Donadio proves particularly funny and sharp when Julie's façade cracks, revealing outbursts of rage and saucy pleasure. Skin could benefit from more of such moments. It winds down a little too soon, as if important facets of the characters still need to be explored. It's a testament to the play's sharp construction and engaging performances that leave you wanting to see a little more Skin.

Skin. Through Feb. 24. $7.50-$15. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Dad's Garage Top Shelf Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. 404-523-3141.


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