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St. Louis by Richard Green

The Skin Of Our Teeth
Clayton Community Theatre

Also see Richard's review of The Killing Of Sister George

(center) Kristy Wehrle and Sam Hack and (clockwise from lower left) Darrious Varner, Edda Carolina Tejada, Susan Moore, Heather Sartin and Shannon Magee
Here's a show that creeps in, in a most unassuming way, and rises up to devour us all by the middle of act three. Not unlike an advancing ice age in act one, or the Diluvian flood that gradually threatens to destroy the world in act two. Let's just say "it's always something." But, ultimately, the greatest power of all belongs to playwright Thornton Wilder.

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 anymore—the 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 baby—and 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 playwright—not 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

Announcer/Broadcast Official: Gwynneth Rausch
Sabina: Heather Sartin
Mr. Fitzpatrick (Stage Manager): Mark Slaten
Mrs. Antrobus: Kristy Wehrle
Dinosaur/Lady Conveener/Heater: Edda Carolina Tejada
Mammoth/Conveener/Actress: Susan Moore
Telegraph Boy/Lifeguard: Jaz Tucker
Gladys: Shannon Magee
Henry: Darrious Varner
Mr. Antrobus: Sam Hack
Doctor/Conveener/Mr. Tremayne: Joe Wegescheide
Judge/Defeated Candidate/Fred Bailey: Brad Kinzel
Miss E. Muse/Showgirl/Actress: Christine Newport
Miss T. Muse/Showgirl/Actress: LaTosha Howard
Miss M. Muse/Lady Conveener/Ivy: Mary Klein
Usher/Conveener/Mr. Bailey: Justin James Hogue
Usher/Conveener: Kris Hogue
Beach Girl/Actress: Rhiannon Creighton
Beach Girl/Assistant Stage Manager: Kristen Flores
Fortune Teller: Suzanne Greenwald
Showgirl/Actress: Laura Allen

Co-Directors: Joe O'Connor and Rose Wegescheide
Producer: Nada Vaughn
Production Assistant: Marilyn Albert-Hack
Production Stage Manager: Zac Cary
Backstage Manager: Dawn Scatizzi
Set Designers: Andrew Cary and Joe O'Connor
Master Carpenter: Andrew Cary
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Sound Designer: Tom Bell
Light Board Operator: Ben Brink
Sound Board Operator: Mark R. Choquette
Prop Master: Dawn Scatizzi
Run Crew: Maureen Highkin, Mike Scatizzi
Costumer: Sheri Hogan
Assistant Costumers: Mary Grau, Dawn Scatizzi
House Manager: Kim Boxdorfer
Box Office Manager: Ellen Schroeder

Photo: John Lamb and Susan Moore

-- Richard T. Green

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