Review Roundup: THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH Opens On Broadway

The production coincides with the 125th anniversary of Mr. Wilder's birth and also marks the Beaumont and Broadway debuts of LCT Resident Director Lileana Blain-Cruz.

By: Apr. 25, 2022
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Lincoln Center Theater's production of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic The Skin of Our Teeth, opens tonight at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

The production coincides with the 125th anniversary of Mr. Wilder's birth and also marks the Beaumont and Broadway debuts of LCT Resident Director Lileana Blain-Cruz.

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH's cast features Eunice Bae, Gabby Beans, Terry Bell, Ritisha Chakraborty, William DeMeritt, Jeremy Gallardo, Paige Gilbert, Avery Glymph, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Noor Hamdi, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Maya Jackson, Anaseini Katoa, Cameron Keitt, Megan Lomax, Kathiamarice Lopez, Priscilla Lopez, James Vincent Meredith, Lindsay Rico, Julian Robertson, Julian Rozzell, Jr., Roslyn Ruff, Julyana Soelistyo, Phillip Taratula, Beau Thom, Alphonso Walker, Jr., Adrienne Wells and Sarin Monae West.

Recipient of the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Thornton Wilder's visionary masterpiece The Skin of Our Teeth illuminates the endurance of the human spirit as it follows the Antrobus family of Excelsior, New Jersey as they persevere through an Ice Age, a biblical flood, and war.

The Antrobus Family is played by James Vincent Meredith as Mr. Antrobus, Roslyn Ruff as Mrs. Antrobus, and Paige Gilbert and Julian Robertson as their children Gladys and Henry. Gabby Beans will play their maid, Sabina. Tony Award-winner Priscilla Lopez will be featured as the Fortune Teller.

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH features sets by Adam Rigg, costumes by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting by Yi Zhao, sound by Palmer Hefferan, and projections by Hannah Wasileski, all of whom are making their Beaumont debuts. Charles M. Turner III is the Stage Manager.

Alexis Soloski, The New York Times: For some, this too muchness, married to Wilder's bookish mischief, will pall. The intermission doesn't come until nearly two hours in, and as I walked out into the lobby, an usher asked me if I planned on leaving. Apparently a lot of people do. But if you stick it out, you can find real power in the way the lush design garlands a profound suspicion of human endeavor. Blain-Cruz relegates Wilder's emphasis on endurance for something more questioning, mostly by giving space to the questions that are already there.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: The director Lileana Blain-Cruz has cast the Antrobuses as a Black family, so playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins makes some necessary, feather-light adjustments to the text. A racist murder in the second act is no longer racist, for instance, and in the third act, in the procession of the thinkers, Jacobs-Jenkins has added bell hooks to the roster. Conceptually, I'm on board. Experientially, though, the thing is a roller coaster, and I don't mean the light-up one that designer Adam Rigg has placed on a New Jersey boardwalk. Blain-Cruz meets Wilder's maximalism with her own, his gravity with her seriousness, but the writer's comedy and the director's don't coincide. Beans in particular gets caught in the gap. She is being asked to play Sabina's broad stuff so broadly - in the ill-shaped Vivian Beaumont, which tends to swallow up every gesture - that we only realize what a glittering star she is when she drops the act for one of her many asides.

Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: With its visual appeal and committed cast, the pessimistic asides are hardly necessary. Beans, who brings to mind Endora from "Bewitched," begins a smidge too campy, but turns out one of the season's funnier performances. Meredith and Roslyn Ruff, as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, ground the zaniness with moral authority. And, playing the Antrobus' son, Henry, Julian Robertson's PTSD-inflected performance in Act 3 is affecting.But golly, this set. "Our Town," with its ladders and chairs, looks like a very poor cousin, indeed.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: If ever a play needed a high concept, it is Thornton Wilder's surreal comedy with its many disparate parts and radical shifts in tone. Lileana Blain-Cruz directs this revival with less a vision than a couple of ideas. To call them "concepts" gives her too much credit, and both those ideas hold our attention for a minute or two. That's a problem for a play with three acts that lasts three hours. I haven't witnessed this many walk-outs at a theater since the Met Opera last staged Schoenberg's "Moses und Aaron."

Greg Evans, Deadline: Lincoln Center Theater's major new revival of the play, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, with additional material by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and the tireless efforts of an exemplary cast, does, in fact, afford some newfound vitality for a work so often more admired than loved. An exercise in endurance - for the cast, for the audience - The Skin of Our Teeth long ago passed along the novelty of its time-tripping, allegorical flourishes to subsequent (and, frankly, less laborious) heirs, from Caryl Churchill to Tony Kushner to the Wachowskis, so any attempt to meet and rise above the play's inherent challenges would seem to require a vision, maybe a ruthlessness and certainly a firm grasp of the play's continued reason for being.

Brittani Samuel, Broadway News: As an absurdist meditation on resilience, "The Skin of Our Teeth" (which premiered on Broadway in 1942) is still relevant today, but its larger life lessons hardly seem revolutionary. We've already spent the past two years in a deeply intimate relationship with endurance. Surely, we will have to again. My advice? Surrender to the creativity of "Skin" which, in 2022, is best viewed as a theatrical vessel for the many great talents currently working in American theater. A play this long and zany would have a harder time holding attention if not for the 28 cast members' unrelenting commitment to crazy. Gabby Beans, in particular, as the Antrobuses' high-octane housemaid Sabina, gives the best comedic performance I've seen all year. Almost Disney-like in her zealousness, Beans adopts the voice of Yzma from "The Emperor's New Groove" and spritelyness of Edna Mode from "The Incredibles," then drops the act to assure us that she, too, is confused: "Don't take this play serious. The world's not coming to an end. You know it's not. People exaggerate!"

Diep Tran, New York Theatre Guide: The dinosaur earned its entrance applause. Thornton Wilder's play The Skin of Our Teeth, a fantastical tragicomedy about the end of the world, calls for a dinosaur and a woolly mammoth. Typical productions have actors donning animal costumes. But the new Broadway revival of The Skin of Our Teeth goes full Jurassic Park (with the budget to match), with a gigantic brontosaurus, puppeteered by three people, lumbering onto the stage. A two-person-controlled woolly mammoth follows closely behind. These formidable, playful puppets (designed by James Ortiz) inspired gasps of shock and delightful laughter in the audience the night I went. Unfortunately, the dinosaur comes in at the beginning of this three-hour production, and the play struggles in the wake of its long tail.

Ayanna Prescod, Variety: Thornton Wilder's allegorical play "The Skin of Our Teeth" is bizarre, abstract and convoluted; it's not to be taken seriously. Or so Sabina (Gabby Beans) tells the audience at Lincoln Center Theater's Broadway revival of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder. But don't listen to her: There are definitely things to take seriously here, as the themes of this 80-year-old work, courageously but unevenly directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, remain relevant and vital to be reckoned with by contemporary audiences.

Joey Sims, Theatrely: If Blain-Cruz's vision falters in the play's third act-which certainly is its weakest, though still transcendent in moments-that is because Wilder shifts focus to Mr. Antrobus and Henry (Julian Robertson), far less rewarding characters on the page. This production simply finds more of interest in the play's women. So while Blain-Cruz has wrangled many of the play's impossible contradictions, she has no particular take on the father-son argument which dominates act three (a baffling scene, in which the actors again drop in and out of character), and the production does slow as a result. No matter. The overall achievement of this staging is still titanic, both for its wrangling with an impossible play and its pushing forward of a theater defined by traditions. One can feel the struggle of a creative team (all making LCT debuts, except Blain-Cruz) boldly willing the dried-up gears of an aging apparatus to move in new, exciting ways. Like Wilder's play, the ultimate achievement is messy, imperfect, and seminal.

Bob Verini, New York Stage Review: Lincoln Center takes its one intermission here, with time to reflect on the excellences thus far: the puppetry for sure, credited to James Ortiz; Adam Rigg's flashy yet seedy boardwalk setting; spectacular sound effects from Palmer Hefferan; and the sturdy performances by the principals, notably Gabby Beans as Sabina. That part has to carry both acts on her slim shoulders, and in 1943 the larger-than-life diva Tallulah Bankhead triumphed, director Elia Kazan having cast her famously against type. Beans, in her Broadway debut, is an Eartha Kitt rather than a Tallulah: seductive and sensible by turns, a tiger who can turn pussycat at will. I don't know whether a leading role in a Lincoln Center revival can carry the oomph necessary to be a star-maker, but I have a hunch Beans' future star status is pretty secure.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Go big or go home. Thornton Wilder certainly did with his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1942 play The Skin of Our Teeth, which follows a single family through an ice age, flood, and war-centuries upon centuries of epic catastrophes-only to begin the cycle all over again. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, Lincoln Center Theater's swing-for-the-fences revival is appropriately grand, starting with Adam Rigg's sprawling, stunningly detailed sets. And just wait until the dinosaur and woolly mammoth puppets-designed by James Ortiz (The Woodsman)-make their entrances. (It's a good thing those guys go extinct after Act One, because they're total scene-stealers.)

David Cote, Observer: Looking at the big picture, this gorgeous monster of a production brings together two urgent trends in theatrical discourse today: casting reparations by creating Black space in the white canon and also, embracing a sprawling meta-drama that feeds a hunger for stories that are not merely sociological but cosmological. We know that patriarchy, greed, and white supremacy have spawned misery across ages; without pretending they have the solution, theater artists can find deep bass strings of commonality to pluck. For me, The Skin of Our Teeth is a boisterous hymn to humanity, the most moving and inspiring work of the season. Even so, Skin won't be to everyone's taste. There are tonal fumbles in the second act-the French accent laid on a bit thick, Priscilla Lopez's Fortune Teller too wispy, the chaos before the flood overly manic-but I think a certain degree of failure has always been baked into this idiosyncratic classic. Yes, It's long and taxing on the brain, but the exhaustion you feel while leaving has the afterglow of exhilaration. We survived this speeding glacier, this world-drowning deluge of a play; we're spent and dazed; but isn't life a miracle, and aren't you glad for tomorrow?

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: Director Lileana Blain-Cruz has assembled a terrific design team, most of whom are making spectacular Broadway debuts. These include: Set designer Adam Rigg, who creates a convincing suburban home during an encroaching Ice Age, then the Atlantic City complete with rollercoaster and neon signs (one of which becomes cleverly R-rated) right before The Great Flood, then a burnt out suburban home after the devastating war. Projection designer Hannah Wasileski, who begins each of the three acts with elaborate newsreel like "News Events of the World" videos that are a fit visual accompaniment to the loopy narration James Ortiz, who designs and directs the life-sized dinosaur and woolly mammoth in Act 1. It would do these extinct species a disservice to call them mere puppets. When the dinosaur slinks into the Antrobus household and says "It's cold," your heart will melt. The design helps establish the rich, bizarre juxtapositions of the play, between the everyday and the cosmic, between playfulness and resilience.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Based on the number of empty seats at the Vivian Beaumont Theater after the intermission between Act II and Act III-there is also a pause between the first and second acts-many people share her mixture of confusion and dismay. The Skin of Our Teeth was ahead of its time in 1942 but is not ahead of ours; although the text has been tweaked by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins-a quote from Aristotle, for instance, has been replaced with one from bell hooks-it often seems dated, even when the material is startlingly applicable to our particular moment in time. (When a stage manager steps forward to announce that the company has been ravaged by illness and understudies will be stepping into their roles, you may think that's a new addition to the text. It is not.) The repetition gets numbing, and the conceit wears out; by the third act, you acutely feel the nearly three-hour length.

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