In Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser’s “Under My Skin,” an inept angel (Yvette Cason) causes the soul and spirit of an arrogant health-care mogul (Matt Walton) to enter the body of a shrill temp (Erin Cardillo) and vice versa, and love blossoms. In other words, “Working Girl” meets “Heaven Can Wait,” a marriage promising more mirth than is on display at the Pasadena Playhouse. As helmed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the hijinks consistently push the bounds of believability and taste, less likely to stick under your skin than in your craw.
The married writing team worked on the hit 1990s sitcom “The Nanny,” remnants of which pop up in Cardillo’s nails-on-blackboard vocal delivery out-Dreschering Fran Drescher, and a host of predictable, overdone confrontations between buffoon and bimbette. Mugging and aud takes are the rule, with world records set for women adjusting their breasts and booty and men their junk.
The gags need Obamacare. “Did you take your memory pills?” “I can’t remember.”
Buoyancy might have been enhanced had the hapless pair been permitted to stay in their bodies, each letting the intruding personality take over. Remember Steve Martin hilariously channeling Lily Tomlin’s mannerisms in “All of Me”? Instead, putting Cardillo in an oversized suit and Walton in dresses, pearls and heels at first gets screams but confuses things over time. You have to keep reminding yourself who’s who.
Additional sources of discomfort are the Steve Jobs and Whitney Houston jokes (too soon); act two’s intrusion of breast and uterine cancer to push the farce into sappy melodrama; a pat, demagogic solution to America’s very real healthcare crisis offered as the “message”; and the waste of still debonair Hal Linden, whose “Barney Miller” was for years one of the last gasps of understated sitcom style, on a stale senile-grandpa cameo.
Most frustrating of all is the retro sexual politics. Horndogs are excused as having no control over their erections, and no doctor or barfly is so loathsome as to merit any comeuppance. By contrast, each and every woman is caricatured in the grossest, most cliched terms, all selfishly obsessed with appearance or personal aura. Even Kate Bergh’s garish pink number, worn with an absurdly wide peplum, flatters Walton more than it does Cardillo.