Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
The Skin of Our Teeth
Thornton Wilder, who won the Pulitzer Prize for this play in 1942, is also noted for his other seminal works such as Our Town and The Matchmaker (from which the musical Hello, Dolly! was adapted). Themes that seem to populate more than once in his plays are how trying to hold on to the past hinders us from moving toward the future as well as the connection of the many to the individual.
The play begins in 1942 as we are introduced to the Antrobus family of Excelsior, New Jersey; Mrs. Antrobus (Kathryn Hunter-Willams), Mr. Antrobus (Ray Dooley), their two children Gladys (Omolade Wey) and Henry (Anthony August), their maid Sabina (Tori Jewell), and their pets (a dinosaur and a woolly mammoth). All the characters are either archetypes and/or identified with Biblical characters. It is in a parallel universe of 1940s America that a modern Ice Age has begun, panic everywhere, and the family must learn to survive or die. Act Two opens to another warped reality: this time Atlantic City, where the Storm of the Century is happening with all its fury, comparable to the story in the the Bible of the Great Flood. In Act Three, the family emerges out of a post-apocalypse world of rebuilding humanity after a cataclysmic war. In all cases, the family must discover how to work together and overcome their circumstances despite the chaos that surrounds them. And while the family connects the three acts, there is no strong linear narrative except for the passing of time.
Director Vivienne Benesch has ingeniously taken the Antrobus family further into the future with this production, proving how timely the themes are no matter the era. We see them from where the play originally ended, in 1942, to the early 1980s and then later in the future. The story is the same, however, as the family learns to overcome and preserve trial after trial of hardship together. The production design is in the capable hands of Jan Chambers with her minimalistic yet effective set design, plus Reza Behjat's transporting lighting, McKay Coble's beautiful costume designs (special mention for her "animal" costumes), and the amazing video projection design by Shawn Duan and Maxwell Bowman.
This is a special production in that it marks Ray Dooley's final performance as a resident company member with PlayMakers after more than 30 years with the Department of Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill and performing in 104 productions with The PlayMakers Repertory Company. About Mr. Dooley, Producing Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch had this to say, "Ray has lit and nurtured a fire of creativity and passion for the craft of acting in hundreds of young people and made an indelible impression on the history of PlayMakers Repertory Company." He will be greatly missed on the PlayMakers stage.
Whether you interpret this allegorical play as a hopeful sign that we will learn from our past and create a better future or that we do not, it is ultimately our choices that define us. Hopefully, we will choose the clear message that Wilder lays out for us in his play: that we choose to help each other through our communal hardships, find the universality that we all share, and live.
The Skin of Our Teeth runs through December 5, 2021, at PlayMakers Repertory Company, 120 Country Club Rd, Chapel Hill NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.playmakersrep.org or call 919-962-7529.
Playwright: Thornton Wilder
Cast (In order of appearance):