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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Sher Hand gives The Skin of Our Teeth Contemporary Bite at Intiman

The Skin of Our Teeth
(background) Laurence Ballard, Howie Seago and Anne Scurria ; (foreground) J.D. Tracy, Kelly Balch and Lucia Sher
Intiman Theatre artistic director Bartlett Sher, busy in NYC for much of last season, is happily back in the director's chair for several shows this season, and Thornton Wilder's once ground-breaking play The Skin of Our Teeth benefits greatly from Sher's sure hand. For, unlike the simpler, somehow less dated and more universally appealing Our Town (which Sher mounted wonderfully well here two seasons back), The Skin of Our Teeth, with its thesis of how the human race keeps repeating its mistakes, can best be labeled trite and true.

Wilder's middle-class Antrobus family and their occasional maid Sabina are not the most lovable characters he ever wrote, but they remain compelling and complex, straddling the dual time periods of New Jersey 1940s and during an ice age, before a flood, and after a war. The play is in three acts and requires lengthy set changes during the two intermissions, but in Sher's imaginative and capable hands the three-hour evening clips by rapidly, and his imaginative casting adds to the excellence of the production.

George Antrobus is played with equal amounts of warmth and strength by veteran deaf actor Howie Seago, who signs his lines while he is "voiced" by other cast members, most notably Laurence Ballard. Just moments in, I had totally accepted and adjusted to this casting device, to the point of no longer thinking about it. Anne Scurria is excellent as Mrs. Antrobus, particularly shining comedically in her act two speech on behalf of her husband's political candidacy. Kristin Flanders effectively underplays Sabina a bit, making her quirky yet not grandly over eccentric. She comes on strong and funny in the opening moments of the show when Sabina is addressing the audience and laying the groundwork for Wilder's sometimes confusing plot, and she is heartily sympathetic in the post-war third act, where she appeals to be taken back in by the Antrobus family, despite an earlier attempt to seduce Mr. Antrobus.

Kelly Balch and J.D. Tracy offer respectable performances in the somewhat underwritten roles of the Antrobus children.  From the large and capable ensemble come some vivid cameos, including Kate Wisniewski as overzealous fortune teller, David Hunter Koch as annoyingly self-absorbed theatre director, and in his many guises, Seattle theatre treasure, Clayton Corzatte. Kudos too for the half-dozen or so actors whose musical instrument talents are well employed throughout, and a hearty welcome to the theatre to actors Ernest L. Pumphrey, Jr. and Derek Schreck who bring a Wooly Mammoth to life, and to young Miss Lucia Sher (daughter of the director and leading lady Kristin Flanders) who steals hearts in an act one debut turn as a Baby Dinosaur.

Scenic designer Michael Yeargan's huge and elaborate sets work brilliantly for the storytelling, Catherine Zuber's costumes (including that wooly mammoth suit) are uniformly handsome and evocative, and Marcus Doshi's lighting design is pure theatrical magic. Composer and sound designer John Peter Still has created a vivid background score, with especially haunting qualities in the post-war act three sequence.

The Skin of Our Teeth is an interesting, flawed, theatrical artifact, made vivid by the work of Sher and his collaborators. If the play should ever return to Broadway, one would hope Sher, an endlessly inventive and passionate director, would have a hand in that production as well.

The Skin of Our Teethruns through June 2, 2007 at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer Street in Seattle Center. For more information go online at www.Intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David-Edward Hughes



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