Go big or go home. Thornton Wilder certainly did it with his Pulitzer Prize-winning play in 1942. The skin of our teethwhich follows a single family through an ice age, flood and war – centuries and centuries of epic disasters – to start the cycle all over again.
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, Lincoln Center Theater’s swing-for-the-fences revival is deservedly awe-inspiring, starting with Adam Rigg’s sprawling and impossibly detailed sets. And wait for the dinosaur and woolly mammoth puppets, designed by James Ortiz (the woodcutter)—making their entries. (It’s a good thing these guys disappeared after the first act, because they’re scene stealers.)
[Read Bob Verini’s ★★★★★ review here.]
The first act turns the chaos of an impending ice age into a farce: melodramatic maid/Greek chorus/long-time pessimist Sabina (Gabby Beans, giving Eartha Kitt major vibes) and her feather duster work for hours additional in the Excelsior laden with velvet and tapestry. , NJ, living room of a ‘typical American family’, as the kitschy 1950s opening newsreel depicts it. George Antrobus (James Vincent Meredith) is the inventor of the wheel; his wife, Maggie (Roslyn Ruff), is a housewife and model mother; his daughter Gladys (Paige Gilbert) recites perfect poetry; and his son Henry (Julian Robertson)…well, for heaven’s sake, just keep the slingshot away from Henry. As if the threat of freezing to death wasn’t enough, Antrobus’ living room is suddenly filled with a group of refugees – Moses, Homer, a group of Muses, etc. – looking for heat, coffee and sandwiches. “Oh, I see what that part of the room means now!” It means refugees,” Sabina says, dropping the servant schtick and returning to the character of Latasha, aka the actress. playing Sabine. “Don’t take this game seriously. The world is not coming to an end. You know that’s not the case. People exaggerate! That ice cream business, well, that was a long, long time ago.
Incidentally, Latasha has quite a few opinions on this piece, and she stops to share them whenever she really feels like it. “Oh, why can’t we have coins like we once had…South Pacificand Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spikeand Loot Candy!—good entertainment with a message you can take home? ” she sighs. Updated theatrical references and thoughtfully placed additional contemporary material are courtesy of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (whose drama Wardirected by Blain-Cruz, performed at LCT3 in 2016).
Luckily, the entire planet doesn’t turn into a huge iceberg, so Act 2 moves to Atlantic City in the 1920s, naturally. Between the sex in the hut, the giant slide at the back of the stage and the dance break, the promenade is the place to be. Even Sabina is there, posing as a beauty queen with a French accent while secretly planning to steal George from his wife of 5,000 (yes, 5,000) years. Amidst all this mayhem and choreography—props for whoever decided to rock Chlöe’s body positivity anthem “Have Mercy”—a fortune teller (the gorgeous-but-who badly in need of amplification) tries to warn our hero of the next impending disaster: torrents of rain. “Antrobus! Take these animals in this boat with you,” she orders. “All, two of each kind.”
The skin of our teeth is a lot. The jump in time, the biblical allusions, the meteorological madness. The news, the game within the game, the sudden changes in tone. And it only gets crazier after intermission, when the audience learns that a cast of actors have food poisoning (never eat moldy lemon meringue pie, people) and will be replaced by four cast members. crew. But that’s also when the room becomes very real, and we end up in the Antrobus house, or what’s left of it anyway. Gladys and Mrs. Antrobus live in hiding, and father and son fight, but not together.
It’s easy to see that The skin created in 1942, in the middle of World War II. Despite all the tragedy Wilder inflicted on his characters, he created a family that persevered, starting over after each calamitous event. It is a work of unwavering optimism in the face of relentless defeat. “Oh, the world is a horrible place”, sighs Sabina, who consoles herself by going to the cinema “from time to time”. His theater mates can sympathize.
The skin of our teeth opened April 25, 2022 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater and will run through May 29. Tickets and information: lct.org