One of the known knowns of theater, as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, is that you often have highly qualified, skilled people working with average material. It’s much easier to put on a play when you’re working with a superior script, so even the best practitioners of the dramatic arts will be hard-pressed to exceed the limitations of the material being performed.
While we’ve all seen far worse than the modestly appealing comedy “Skin Deep” by Jon Lonoff, now being presented by Carpenter Square Theatre, we’ve also seen better.
The storyline will sound familiar: Maureen Mulligan is a never-married dental hygienist — “full-figured” and “Rubenesque,” by her own description — who lives in middle-class Queens, N.Y. A plaque in her apartment reads: “Every time I say the word ‘diet,’ I wash my mouth out with chocolate.” When she orders Chinese takeout by telephone, she pretends to be ordering for two.
Maureen hasn’t been on a date in years, so her well-meaning, if bumbling, sister and brother-in-law, Sheila and Squire Whiting, fix her up with Joe Spinelli, a half-mensch/half-schlub restaurant and bar owner from Brooklyn.
“Skin Deep” recalls both the Ernest Borgnine 1955 film, “Marty,” and Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig,” without the visceral poignancy of either. This lukewarm comedy achieves about the literary level of a television sitcom.
What the production, well-directed by Brett Young, has going for it are fine performances by the four-member cast, which might make the play worth two hours of your time and a few of your hard-earned shekels. Also, the credible set design of Maureen’s apartment in all its disheveled charm by Young and Caleb Schnackenberg — within the limitations of the hotel ballroom where CST is working temporarily — and the highly authentic costumes by Scotty Taylor give the production a solid foundation.
In her most memorable performance to date, Rebecca McCauley plays Maureen. She gives the character just the right amount of edginess and vulnerability. Her reaction when Joe compliments her on her legs reflects the physical comedy of such greats as Lucille Ball.
In an equally memorable turn, Rodney Brazil plays Joe, possessing many characteristics of Borgnine’s Marty. He’s a hardworking guy who won’t hesitate to defend a woman’s honor in the face of some cad. You can’t help but like him.
Kris Schinske and Todd Clark are the sister and brother-in-law. Schinske’s character is the much-surgically modified (“enhancements,” she calls them) Sheila, who visits her Park Avenue plastic surgeon the way most people make routine visits to the grocery store.
Schinske is a fine comic actress, and, brother, can she screech. Hers is one of the most comically irritating voices you’ll hear anywhere. And Clark’s Squire is a lecher whose roving eye knows no boundaries.