BWW Interview: Actor, Director Chat The Wimberley Players' THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH
BroadwayWorld is pleased to share an interview with James Brownlee and Bill Claussen regarding The Wimberley Players' production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Bill Claussen stars in the production in the leading role of Antrobus. The production is directed by James Brownlee.
The Skin of Our Teeth broke from theatrical convention to win the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1943. Thornton Wilder departs from the nostalgia of his iconic Our Town to create an Eternal Family that narrowly escapes one disaster after another, from ancient times to the present. George and Maggie Antrobus (Greek for human) married only 5,000 years, their two children, Gladys and Henry and their maid, Sabina, the ageless vamp, overcome ice, flood, and war - by the skin of their teeth. Their survival is a theatrical testament of faith in humanity, stunningly told through satire, farce and allegorical comedy.
BWW: What is The Skin of Our Teeth about?
JB: The Skin Of Our Teeth, in a nutshell, is the story of human endurance, with all its accompanying humor, self-doubt, self-indulgence, fortitude, and resilience, told through allegory, metaphor, and elements of Brecht's alienation effect.
BC: Shortly after we began working on this show, one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost, The Peril Of Hope, ran through my mind. That is what this play is about-that tension we all feel in life, where it seems we are always trying to maintain hope, wherever we are at each moment between the "orchard bare and the orchard green."
BWW: The Skin of Our Teeth premiered on Broadway in 1942. How do you think modern audiences will respond to the play?
JB: I think that the play has been revived time and again through the ensuing decades because always need to be reminded of their ability to carry on, no matter how bad the circumstances become.
BC: Thornton Wilder deals with timeless themes about the inner and outer challenges that anyone who has experienced life as a human can relate to.
BWW: The Skin of Our Teeth is one of two Thornton Wilder plays to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the other one being Our Town. Are there any similarities or differences between the two works?
JB: Where Our Town is a study of our place in the universe through a look at human life in small town America, The Skin Of Our Teeth is a look at humanity through the ages that reminds us that though our world/situation may change for better or worse, our basic human needs remain the same. Thornton Wilder was influenced by German dream-theatre, and some of the same theatrical elements are used in both plays, like the Brechtian practice of always reminding the audience that they are watching a play. The alienation effect is used more in The Skin Of Our Teeth, but where Brecht used it to uphold his Marxist principles by forcing the audience to make a decision, Wilder's intent in its use seems to lean more toward comfort and humor; Lily Sabina's interludes in The Skin Of Our Teeth are bitingly funny.
BC: This show is my introduction to Thornton Wilder. I have heard much about him, but until I read this work and began researching it, I had no idea just how wonderful he is.
BWW: What do you like most about your character?
BC: I love Antrobus. In many ways, he is the most heroic character I've had the honor to play. He wants to do the right thing-but like so many of us he occasionally struggles with this. My exploration of Antrobus has been an often challenging journey of self-discovery, deeper than most characters take me. In the end, he does his best to do the next right thing, and continue on the path of love and hope. This is why he, and all the other characters in this great play, are both authentic and inspiring. And it is also why Mr. Wilder's play is so important.
BWW: What has the rehearsal process been like with this show?
JB: I was fortunate enough to be able to cast this show with extremely talented and funny people, and they've grabbed the material and run with it. This play is a challenge for actors and actresses, with situations that alternate between near-farcical comedy and moments of dire and profound seriousness. This cast has risen to the occasion, and that makes my job an absolute joy.
BWW: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
BC: There are several moments when Antrobus makes a decision to go on again in the face of great difficulty, or when he reaches out in forgiveness. Even more wonderful than these, however, is the moment when Lily Sabina finally does the same. These moments of perseverance and reconciliation are what make this such a wonderful play.
BWW: Do you have any last thoughts you'd like to share with BroadwayWorld readers?
BC: I have observed that this show is difficult to pull off well-in particular the multilayered role of Lily Sabina is very challenging. However, James Brownlee and the talented cast he has put on the stage around me have succeeded in bringing Mr. Wilder's multidimensional world to life. And Kimberlyn Clark-as Lily Sabine-plays the all-too-human tour guide through this world with great humor and charm.
JB: I encourage everyone to attend that can! This is one of the great American plays and it has been reforged and reborn once again at Wimberley Playhouse!
The Skin of Our Teeth plays now thru July 6th. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $10-$19. For tickets and information, visit www.wimberleyplayers.org. Wimberley Players are located at 450 Old Kyle Road, Wimberley, Texas 78676.