The Skin Of Our Teeth
Also see Richard's review of The Killing Of Sister George
Directors Joe O'Connor and Rose Wegescheide begin with a distressingly plain, even dull tone, examining a family that seems to have endured the whole of human civilization, from the Garden of Eden onward. We follow them through a very odd afternoon in Atlantic City, to a post-Apocalyptic reckoning near the transcendental end.
Yes, I wish there were a bit more of a "Father Knows Best" tone to the first act of Wilder's absurdist epic, but these are people who are four or five thousand years old, so they're pretty jaded by now. Except the maid, who is predictably wacky, until she comes to occupy the eye of the storm. Like some great ocean-going vessel, this staging of The Skin of Our Teeth takes some time getting out of dock, but it sails magnificently once it's good and ready.
You hardly ever see it performed anymorethe play is challenging and odd and still deeply unconventional, more than 70 years after it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. On a personal level, it lands in my own life like a last piece of a long-unfinished puzzle: there are references to The Skin Of Our Teeth in the work of The Firesign Theatre, and anyone familiar with the comedy albums of that group will immediately recognize Wilder's mad, tangential humor as a great source of inspiration. And like The Firesign Theatre's greatest LPs, you won't really know what you're in for till "the last reel."
Sam Hack is kindly and avuncular as the immortal George Antrobus, and Kristy Wehrle is formidable and stoic as his wife. She comes out with some stunning insights into the secret knowledge of women and even the future of marriage rights, in strange pronouncements. But it's Heather Sartin, as Sabina the maid, who paints the canvas of the story with the grandest, gleeful strokes in a role originated by Tallulah Bankhead in 1942. She takes a great role and makes it her own: first ditzy; then sexy/funny; and finally heroic and swaggering. Every actress in town should be severely jealous.
Darrious Varner and Shannon Magee do very well as the Antrobus' offspring; he becomes eerily iconic, till he confronts a kind of collective grief and anguish (at the end of the world, more or less). And Mr. Varner adds a lot of touching emotion in the final scenes, which really helps lift the whole show out beyond absurdity. Shannon Magee (as his sister) is just fun to watch, until she comes on in act three with a babyand we realize how dire circumstances may easily reduce us to the most basic human concerns.
There's also a mystical, rhetorical construction near the end that lends a fairy-tale magic to the whole thing (thanks to the great thinkers of the human race), and shows the true imaginative power of the playwrightnot to mention the fine work of the directors. Wilder also gives prominence to an all-seeing news media (in the person of the very fine Gwynneth Rausch) to help propel the narrative, and that fits right in to our modern media-saturated world, 73 years later.
Through July 26, 2015, at 6501 Clayton Rd., in the Washington University South Campus theatre (across from the Esquire Theatre), in the old CBC prep school building. For more information visit www.placeseveryone.org.