How long will the human race last? Forever? Until the sun burns out? That is the eternal question and may become less and less likely with each passing decade of climate change.
Yet, in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the human race appears timeless, indestructible, having survived the Ice Age, the Great Flood, and endless wars.
What better place than the Theatricum Botanicum to see a professional production of Thornton Wilder’s highly allegorical play, The Skin of Our Teeth, about a lovely, upper middle-class family in New Jersey that rose out of historic cataclysm to survive in spite of everything.
The main characters are George and Maggie Antrobus (from the Greek, anthropos, meaning “human” or “person”), their two children, Henry and Gladys, and Lily Sabina, who is double cast as the family’s maid in the first and third acts, and as a beauty queen temptress in the second act.
Directed with a sure and steady hand by Ellen Geer, it played at breakneck speed from start to finish. The satire opens with the family’s maid Sabina, in a hilarious and commanding performance by Willow Geer, who is dusting the living room and worrying about Mr. Antrobus (Mark Lewis) coming home “on the coldest day of August.”
Their “pets,” the wooly mammoth and T-Rex, are already inside the house getting warm, but Sabina has let the fire, which represents the end of time, go out.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Antrobus (Melora Marshall) attempts to keep order in her lovely home as the Ice Age quickly approaches. Marshall keeps you laughing until she breaks your heart.
Together, with their son Henry (William Holbrook), who in Act 3 becomes a “violent wild child,” threatening to kill his father, and their “sweet-as-pie” daughter, Gladys (Gabrielle Beauvais) must all learn to navigate the Ice Age, Biblical times, the invention of the wheel, ancient Greece, the Great War (WW I), and even a beauty pageant in Atlantic City.
As the intrepid husband and father, Mr. Antrobus is described by Wilder as “the average American at grips with destiny, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet.” Mark Lewis gives an outstanding performance as the patriarch, an enthusiastic, eternal everyman, who is also busy inventing the lever, the wheel, the alphabet, and the multiplication table.
By the third act, as they continue to live and rebuild in the face of adversity, the family is proof, as Mr. Antrobus says, that “living is struggle.”
“This play is about us, today,” notes director Ellen Geer. “The Antrobuses are refugees of the Ice Age (climate change), of Noah’s Flood (record-breaking, weather-related calamities and fires), and of war (endless). Wilder said of his play, ‘It is most potent in times of crisis.’ Theatricum is mounting it for the third time, so I guess we are at another time of crisis and plan to survive and land on our feet, just like the Antrobus family.”
The Theatricum cast also features company members Jonathan Blandino as the announcer, and Earnestine Phillips in a beautiful, stand-out performance as the Fortune Teller.
The ensemble includes Dylan Booth, John Brahan, Matthew Domenico, Colin Guthrie, Margaret Kelly, Edison Lobos, Shane McDermott, Matthew Pardue, Dante Ryan, Gina Shansey, Sky Wahl, Isaac Wilkins, and Woan Ni Wooi.
The wonderful period costume design is by Holly Hawk, lighting design is by Zach Moore, sound design is by Grant Escandón, the prop masters are Danté Carr and Sydney Russell and creature creation is by Puppet Time. Kim Cameron is the production stage manager.
A three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, for this play, as well as Our Town and the novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder didn’t really care for popular, conventional theater in the early Twentieth century. Ironically, when he went looking for something more real and perhaps even profound, he threw caution to the wind and wrote the allegorical The Skin of Our Teeth in 1942 during WWII without knowing what the outcome would be.
As a playwright, Wilder was really quite prescient, having lived through WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, the Atomic Bomb, the McCarthy Era, the Vietnam War, the ‘60s, and the recession of the early ‘70s. It’s almost as if he could see the entire human comedy from a distance and predict its inevitable outcome.
Indeed, The Skin of Our Teeth is a satirical testimonial to the dogged determination of human beings to hang in there against all odds and a great opportunity to see a wonderful production right here in our home town.
For tickets: Adults: $42 (lower tier); $26 (upper tier); Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15; Children (5-15): $10; Children 4 and under: Free. Friday night performance Friday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m.: Pay-What-You-Will.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga CA 90290 (midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway). The outdoor amphitheaters are terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.