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A CurtainUp Review
The Skin Of Our Teeth
By Elyse Sommer
Before I go into the current production, some background: Thornton Wilder's The Skin Of Our Teeth has had it's ups and downs. It's 1942 Broadway premiere directed by Elia Kazan and starring Tallulah Bankhead and Frederic March, was widely praised. When it returned in 1955 with Helen Hayes as Mrs. Antrobus and Mary Martin as Sabina it was still thumbs up. But unlike Wilder's more widely accessible and smaller scaled Our Town, Skin headed into a downward spiral. A 1975 comeback fell flat. After that few directors wanted to tackle the play's large cast and difficult to stage excursions into chaotic then and happy New Jersey territory. While my colleague Les Gutman welcomed a chance to see Skin Of Our Teeth it as part of the Public Theater's 1998 Central Park line-up, he felt the too earthbound staging kept it from being all it could be. I was fortunate to see Darko Tresnjak's production at the Williamstown Theater Festival which did recreate the thrilling stage craft called for. But that was 17 years ago, so bravo to the Theatre for a New Audience's wonderful production.
What makes it well worth a trip to Brooklyn? I don't even need 40 characters to answer that: pretty much everything!
Even more than Mr.Tresnjak, Director Arbus is as inventive as Wilder's central characters, the married for eons Mr. Antrobus and his wife (His inventions for improving life include the alphabet, the wheel and beer; she enhanced homemaking with the apron, the hem, and frying oil).
Ms. Arbus's directorial inventions begin with an amusing slide show bringing the audience up to date on the news of the world by a fourth wall breaking Announcer. That update takes us into the surreal multiple worlds we'll journey through with the Antrobus family and their maid (and Mr. Antrobus's mistress) Sabina. It's a journey of thousands of years of survival— through the Ice Age to wildly good times in New Jersey, back to disaster with floods and devastating war.
The director fluidly shifts from that Stage Manager's introductory spiel and Peter Nigrini's clever projections to the superb main players. (An imposing Kecia Lewis, and the always outstanding David Rasche as the wed through the ages couple, and the delightful Mary Wiseman as the saucy Sabina)
In addition to the many ensemble players who with them through subsequent events, there are the enchanting family's giant pets, courtesy of Cait O'Connor who also designed the entire cast's spectacular costumes.
The Brechtian undercurrent of the comic-inflected beginning, quickly surface during our visit to the Antrobus home (just one example of Riccardo Hernandez's spectacular scenic work). Sabina's jokey commentary makes it clear that the comfortable house is an increasingly endangered refuge from the intolerable cold outside. The arrival of a desperate group of refugees eerily feels as if Wilder had sent an updated script from the Great Beyond. This is underscored by our own problems with climate changes, a global refugee crisis and wars whose duration is beginning to rival the War of the Roses.
Before the gloom and doom of the Ice Age transports us into the Antropus family's Fellini like survival of countless disasters in New Jersey, the second act ends with a musical interlude by Cesar Alvarez that beautifully showcases Kecia Lewis's musical theater background.
Once in the second act's New Jersey extravaganza the show reaches its spectacular zenith. The head of the ever surviving Antropus family has now been relelected as President on a platform replacing the watchword "Work" with"Enjoy Yourselves." The designers, abetted by Choreographer Sonya Tayeh, go all out to capture the Fellini-like atmosphere. This also brings on Mary Lou Rosato, a seasoned scene stealer, as a fortune teller who foresees a very wet and otherwise unhappy end to the Antrobus presidency.
Fortune Teller's predictions are realized in a final visual Wow. While this Skin of Our Teeth resonates uncomfortably with our own world, it is more powerful than ever theatrical experience that will have you laughing and enjoying yourself, even as it leaves you contemplating how to remain optimistic, as Thornton Wilder, declared himself to still be even after admitting that he put a damper on the belief in technical and material progress. "
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The Skin Of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Arin Arbus
Cast: Mary Wiseman as Sabina, David Rasche and Kecia Lewis as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, Reynaldo Piniella and Kimber Monroe as their children, Henry and Gladys; Austin Reed Alleman (Fred Bailey, Refugee, Musician); Andrew R. Butler (Homer and Act II Announcer, Musician); Fred Epstein Dinosaur, Musician); Eric Farber (Mammoth, Musician); Arthur French (Professor, Chair Pusher); Max Gordon (Refugee, Musician); Robert Langdon Lloyd (Moses, Chair Pusher, Tremayne); Sam Morales (Muse, Hester,Boardwalk Girl); Mary Lou Rosato (Fortune Teller, Muse); Jessie Shelton (Telegraph Boy, Ivy, Muse, Boardwalk Girl, Musician); Storm Thomas as Act I Announcer, Broadcast Official, Refugee; Mary Wiseman (Sabina);William Youmans (Fitzpatrick); plus a 17-member Ensemble.
Original Music: Cesar Alvarez
Choreography: Sonya Tayeh
Sets: Riccardo Hernandez
Costumes & Puppets: Cait O'Connor
Lighting: Marcus Doshi
Sound: Stowe Nelson
Projections: Peter Nigrini
Fight direction: J. Allen Suddeth
Hair, wigs,makeup: Dave Bova, J. Jared Janas
Fight Director: J. Allen Suddeth
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center
From 2/14/17; opening 2/28/17; closing 3/19/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at February 26th press preview
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