The Skin of Our Teeth Review – Thornton Wilder’s Tribute to Survival

The Antrobus Family, Melora Marshall, William Holbrook, Gabrielle Beauvais, and Mark Lewis in THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH - Photo by Ian Flanders
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In his Pulitzer prize-winning drama, playwright Thornton Wilder lauded the ability of the human race to go on despite every hurdle placed in its path. The title of the play, attributed to the King James Bible, Job 19:20, says it all: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH first opened on Broadway in 1942 starring Tallulah Bankhead, Frederic March, and Montgomery Clift, winning Bankhead Variety and New York Drama Critics Awards for best actress. This play, which broke nearly every established theatrical convention of the time, proved confusing to its audiences but fascinating to critics.

Melora Marshall, Willow Geer, Gabrielle Beauvais, and William Holbrook – Photo by Ian Flanders

The play follows the adventures of the Antrobus couple, George (Mark Lewis) and Maggie (Melora Marshall), their two children Henry (William Holbrook) and Gladys (Gabrielle Beauvais), and their maid Sabina (Willow Geer) as they navigate through three different and stressful human timelines.

Willow Geer – Photo by Ian Flanders

When the story opens, the Antrobus family is dealing with a Cain and Abel scenario in which one son has murdered his brother – leaving the family to sort out the repercussions while the Ice Age approaches. Later, they must deal with Sodom and Gomorrah/Noah’s ark themes blended into the Roaring Twenties, George’s election as president of the Fraternal Order or Mammals, and George’s foray into infidelity. Finally, the Antrobus family is thrust into a violent and chaotic postwar civilization which threatens their very lives. Through it all, the Antrobus clan must survive.

Mark Lewis – Photo by Ian Flanders

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH is a narrative which hops from era to eon, from disaster to catastrophe, with pessimistic Sabina voicing the frustration of the human race as they are forced to deal with constant threat and potential loss. As such, the thread of the timeline often begins to unravel. Yet Wilder’s underlying message seems to be that life will continue – no matter what – and that people must accept the inevitability of life and take responsibility for their own actions. This is a powerful play with a strong message which will resonate in today’s climate.

Willow Geer, Margaret Kelly, Woan Ni Wooi, and Julia Stier – Photo by Ian Flanders

Director Ellen Geer and the ensemble cast do an excellent job of holding together the multiple offshoots of the tale – which could easily get out of control in lesser hands. At the end of it all, everyone must admire the intensity and insight of playwright Thornton Wilder, who seemed to break every law of writing in order to draw attention to his primary theme, a theme of hope. As always, the entire production team keeps pace with the often convoluted tale and provides appropriate backdrop at every turn, even when required to activate a woolly mammoth.

Willow Geer, William Holbrook, Melora Marshall, and Mark Lewis – Photo by Ian Flanders

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH runs through September 29, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday at 8 p.m. (8/23), on Saturdays at 4 p.m. (9/14, 9/21) and 8 p.m. (7/20, 8/3, 8/31, 9/21, 9/29), and on Sundays at 4 p.m. (7/28) and 8 p.m. (8/11, 8/18, 9/8, 9/29). Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets are $42 and $26 (seniors, students, veterans, teachers, AEA members, $25/$15 and children to 5 to 15 $10). For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.

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