Review: The Skin of Our Teeth

by Lynn on May 23, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Lincoln Center Theater, New York City, until May 29, 2022

Written by Thornton Wilder

Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

With additional material by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Sets by Adam Rigg

Costumes by Montana Levi Blanco

Lighting by Yi Zhao

Sound by Palmer Hefferan

Projections by Hannah wasileski

Cast: Gabby Beans

Paige Gilbert

Priscilla Lopez

James Vincen Meredith

Julian Robertson

Roslyn Ruff

Bold, daring and timely.

The Story. This is Thornton Wilder’s allegorical play about the history of civilization? Humanity? through the ages. There is a raging ice storm outside. We are told by Sabina, the maid, that Mr. Antrobus is not home yet and there is concern.  The wooly mammoth and the dinosaur outside are so unsettled by how cold it is that Mrs. Antrobus lets them in the house. The play references (in no order from me): The Bible and creation, Adam, Eve, trouble, jealousy, preferred children, the flood, Noah, jealous children who become violent, the invention of the wheel, lever, mathematics, infidelity, war and some kind of redemption.

The Production. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz has cast the whole production with actors of colour, offering another layer to the already complex play. Adam Rigg’s set is impressive and lush. That lushness is mainly provided by floor to flies green drapes that look like velvet and drape beautifully. The furnishings are simple with cushions on the couch, a coffee table and all around the space are many and various plants. One of the visual jokes is that when Mrs. Antrobus (a calm, collected Roslyn Ruff) enters to water all the plants, she has one of the smallest watering cans I’ve ever seen for such a huge job. And the puppets of the wooly mammoth and the huge dinosaur are brilliant and the puppeteers who manipulate them and give them voice: Jeremy Gallardo, Beau Thom, Alphonso Walker Jr. And Sarin Monae West

Sabina (a lively Gabby Beans) the maid enters with a dust ‘wand’ flicking the furniture here and there, delivering her lines in a staccato voice about how Mr. Antrobus is not home and they are worried, and it’s sold and the ice is creeping etc. As Sabina, Gabby Beans speaks in a sort of elevated pitched voice. I knew it sounded familiar. Then I got it—Eartha Kitt. She was putting on the distinctive voice of Eartha Kitt but without the obvious seduction. The artificiality was all. At one point in the proceedings, Gabby Beans comes forward, breaks ‘the fourth wall’ and speaks in her regular voice, telling the audience that she has no clue about what the play is about; and that she has been in every play by August Wilson to cement her credentials as a serious actor. I loved that ‘break’ with the theatrical and a nice touch of added dialogue by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

As Gabby Beans gives Sabina a heightened theatricality, Roslyn Ruff as Mrs. Antrobus is poised, calm and keeps everything on an even keel. She attends to details, manages all manner of events and is never ruffled. She looks like a ‘typical’ housewife in the 1950s, crisp dress, coiffed hair, but over the millennia she takes charge without anyone knowing and carries on while others rant and rave. She manages her children. She ‘manages’ her commanding, loud-voiced husband, Mr. Antrobus (James Vincent Meredith); she knows of his roving eye. She sees everything.

Act II takes place in Atlantic City at the Boardwalk and Adam Rigg goes to town designing the amusement park rides, especially an impressive slide in which participants slide down the shoot from one end of the stage to the other. Lots going on here. Where does one focus?

Priscilla Lopez plays a blonde seductive Fortune Teller talking about the future. The problem was that with all the noise of the Boardwalk and the activity, it was hard to make out what she was saying, even if she was microphoned.

Act III returns to the Antrobus home after a seven-year war in which Mrs. Antrobus and her daughter Gladys (Paige Gilbert) have been hiding/living in the basement. Gladys emerges, pregnant. Mr. Antrobus and their son Henry (Julian Robertson) are off fighting the war—on opposite sides. The background of a hill at the back is dark, burnt, desolate and depressing, as if a fire scorched the earth. People wander across the back of the land, walking slowly, defeated by war, life, etc.

Mr. Androbus returns, exhausted. Henry returns enraged. Animosity exists, opposition exists. Is it possible to start to rebuild? Is it worth it?

Comment. The plays asks: “Is there any accomplishment or attribute of the human race of enough value that its civilization should be rebuilt?” The play is so timely because it references plague, isolation, feelings of despair, efforts to continue and hold on, moments of feeling despondent—everything we’ve felt and more during the years of the pandemic. The Skin of Our Teeth was written in 1942. Astonishing.

Lincoln Center Theater Presents:

Plays until May 29, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.

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