BWW Review: THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH Is A Ripe Revival at Theatricum Botanicum
The Skin of Our Teeth/by Thornton Wilder/directed by Ellen Geer/Theatricum Botanicum/through September 29 ( check website for dates and times of select performances)
I am a huge fan of Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It is literary genius in its storytelling of the lifespan of two families in Grovers Corners, New Hampshire It's almost as if Wilder turned Our Town upside down, shook it a few times in snowglobe fashion and created The Skin of Our Teeth. It's also a family drama but it covers more than one lifespan, as it combs a five thousand year period from the Ice Age to the 20th century in Excelsior and Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Antrobus family is bound throughout: the father (Mark Lewis), the mother (Melora Marshall) and their two children Gladys (Gabrielle Beauvais) and Henry (William Holbrook) and their maid Sabina (Willow Geer). Their lives change through time, and plotwise, there is always a crisis they are exposed to. What is mos effective to witness is how they manage to pull through each obstacle...and survive.
The audience laughs when Sabina whines about the cold in August and how she is overworked and underpaid and constantly put upon by every member of the family....but she feeds the homeless and goes on. In Act II, Sabina becomes a beauty queen in Atlantic City who seduces Mr. Antrobus away from his wife. The family is here to support him as he is sworn in as the President of the Society of Mammals. The act ends with a deluge and the actors present Noah's Ark where all the animlas are hearded off onto a ship. In Act III everyone is back in Excelsior, recuperating from a World War. Henry has become a violent monstar who has killed and threatens to kill his father. Mrs. Antrobus has given birth and Sabina once more takes up her duties in nurturing the family members. Sabina is like Wilder's voice as she kind of narrates the proceedings throughout and even breaks the fourth wall to engage the audience in denouncing the play and its meaning.
The key element of the piece is most definitely survival, and director Ellen Geer spearheads the action with a lickety-split pace. She allows all of her actors the space and freedom to explore their characters. No phoniness is present, as Wilder keeps everyone real and in the moment regardless of where they are. Inside comments about the play are abundant and one of Wilder's delightful gimmicks to make us realize... it's only a play.
The cast is sublime. Lewis, Marshall, Beauvias and Holbrook are top notch. Holbrook is playful, childlike and particularly terrifying in Act III as Henry is driven to fits of madness. Willow Geer steals every moment she is onstage in an amazing performance. Earnestine Phillips is another standout as the Fortune Teller. She looms large throughout and is a comedic force of nature.
Don't miss The Skin of Our Teeth! It is an epic look at the world, humanity and how they deal with torment by accepting it and moving on. What a timely message for our country, as we need to ban together in a survival mode.
(photo credit: Ian Flanders)