By Tulis McCall
Lincoln Center Theater’s Resident Director Lileana Blain-Cruz likes chaos. And this production is her cup of tea. For you, however, this chaos might be a reason to study up a bit before you go to see this show. Because there are no maps for this “Skin Of Our Teeth.”
I don’t do a lot of research when I go to the theatre. I prefer not to know what I am supposed to think – like the way I didn’t care for the Catholic Church telling me what God was thinking about my tiny life. I enter as unaware as I can be, avoiding discussion and pre-opening articles. Most of the time this gives me an education in my own thought process – and there is always a surprise or two in there.
For this production, however, I was at a disadvantage. I was lost. In retrospect I realize I DID have a pre-conceived notion. This was Thornton Wilder for God’s sake. Author of “Our Town,” and “The Matchmaker” (source of the story for “Hello Dolly”). What could be more comforting than some good old fashioned, reliable and well played writing.
Not so fast.
Let me begin by saying that every actor in this production, including each member of the ensemble, is nothing short of superb. My confusion was due to the galloping chaos that took off before I realized the barn door was open.
“Skin Of Our Teeth” needs a primer. With some playwrights (Charles Mee comes to mind), I know to leave logic at the door and strap myself in for a ride. Would that someone had given me a hint to do the same here. In this play everything is something else. George and Maggie Antrobus (James Vincent Meredith and Roslyn Ruff) have a last name that is the Greek word for “Human” – they may be Adam and Eve – or maybe not. Their maid is Sabina (Gabby Beans) possibly named after the Sabine Women. Their son Henry used to be Cain of the Cain and Abel story – I think. As to their daughter Gladys – well the jury is out on that one.
This family has existed for thousands of years and is about to go through three disasters as we watch. First up is an encroaching ice age with a couple of FANTASTIC dinosaurs as house guests. When the refugees arrive the dinosaurs are released into the world. And the refugees are rescued.
Second up we are in Atlantic City where Mr. Antrobus has been elected as president of the Fraternal Order of Mammals, dallies with Sabina who is now Miss Lily-Sabina Fairweather and pays little attention to his wife who goes slightly off the rails at the microphone. The Boardwalk is a cornucopia of symbols – Salt Water Taffy, Turkish Baths, and The Fortune Teller (Priscilla Lopez) who seems to sum up everything: “I tell the future. Ugh. Nothing easier. Everybody’s future is in their face. Nothing easier. But who can tell your past,—eh? Nobody! Your youth,—where did it go? It slipped away while you weren’t looking.”
This second disaster will come in the form of a flood to end the world with the Antrobus family escaping on, you guessed it, an Ark.
The final scene finds us at the end of a Seven Year War which Mrs. Antrobus emerging from the clear of the house with Gladys and her new baby. Sabina has returned with her spunky attitude still in tact. Soon the men of the family return as well. One wears blue and one wears grey. After they beat the crap out of one another, the actor playing Henry drops the fourth wall and admits he needs help. We are left with Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus reviewing the cherished books that were saved and Mr. Antrobus vowing that they will continue to survive.
Nearly three hours after the curtain went up the message seems to be that human beings are resilient – even if they have trashed the earth. There is still hope that we will figure this out and everything will be okay.
The long and short of it is – this one will stay with me. I wouldn’t want to sit through it again (quite a few folks walked out), but I will pick up the script. This play is worthy of a post-graduate perusal.
SKIN OF OUR TEETH by Thornton Wilder, new material by playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, set by Adam Rigg, costumes by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting by Yi Zhao, sound by Palmer Hefferan, and projections by Hannah Wasileski.
WITH Eunice Bae, Terry Bell, Ritisha Chakraborty, William DeMeritt, Jeremy Gallardo, Avery Glymph, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Noor Hamdi, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Maya Loren Jackson, Anaseini Katoa, Cameron Keitt, Megan Lomax, Kathiamarice Lopez, Lindsay Rico, Julian Rozzell, Jr., Julyana Soelistyo, Phillip Taratula, Beau Thom, Alphonso Walker, Jr., Adrienne Wells and Sarin Monae West.
Through May 29 at Lincoln Center Theater. Tickets HERE.