Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October 1999
This is an amazing play – a play about everything and nothing, about the daily grind and the larger cosmic issues, about family and government and religion and floods and glaciers and the extinction of the dinosaurs… When it first appeared on the American stage in 1942, just as the Second World War was concluding, no one knew what to do with it except to award playwright Thornton Wilder his second Pulitzer Prize for drama. We still don’t know quite what to make of this play, but theatres large and small all over the country stage it on a regular basis and audiences enjoy it without fully understanding it over and over and over.
In case you haven’t seen the handsome white-on-black posters with the T-Rex on them, MCLA is staging “The Skin of Our Teeth” tonight, Friday and Saturday for the ridiculously reasonable price of $2 per ticket. I would encourage you to go, not because this is a perfect production, but because it is one with a tremendously good heart. The actors playing the leading roles are all excellent, and the general company, while exuding a decidedly amateur air, are full of energy. Besides, a play like this doesn’t come along every day. If you haven’t see “The Skin of Our Teeth” now is the time to do it.
There is not really a plot to summarize here. “The Skin of Our Teeth” concerns itself with the Antrobus family – George (Joseph Michael Adamczak) and Maggie (Annchris G. Warren) and their (living) children Henry (Glenn Edward Dixon) and Gladys (Lindsay Cabral); and their omnipresent maid Lily Sabina Fairweather (Claire Ann Van Cott). George and Maggie may or may not be Adam and Eve, or, in Act II, Noah and his wife. Their son Henry is certainly supposed to be the murderous Biblical Cain – he covers the Mark of Cain on his forehead with a baseball cap and his mother mourns her son Abel whom Henry killed. In the same sense Lily Sabina is either Adam’s first wife Lillith, or one of the raped Sabine women, or both, or neither.
In Act I the Antrobus family survives the Ice Age; in Act II they escape the Flood, taking the animals with them two by two; and in Act III they regroup after the end of a horrific war. At various times the play about the Antrobus family is interrupted by a play about putting on the play about the Antrobus family, with Wilder re-using his Stage Manager (Brian Reese) device from his 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play “Our Town”.
Director Bonnie Bishoff and her energetic young cast have added their own modern and local touches to the play, and most of them work very well, although they do have the unfortunate side-effect of making this a very long evening. Modern audiences, even us theatre critics, have a hard time sitting through anything much longer than two hours, even with two intermissions in which to stretch our legs.
But I would sit for a very long time indeed to hear Annchris Warren sing “Stormy Weather” – one of several musical interpolations in this production. In her hands that number became a moment of pure theatre, as did the violent scene in Act III between Dixon and Adamczak. Basically, anytime the leading players were left alone to interact with each other, the stage came alive. When the unwashed masses of extras crowded around you wished Henry Antorbus would take out that sling-shot of his and put it to good use, but this is educational theatre and it is good for the unwashed masses to have this experience.
The masses do get there moment, however. In Act II Choreographer Ry Pepper and his assistant Jeffrey Lashley (who pounds out a great drum solo) lets the company cut loose in a swing dance number that deserved a far bigger hand than it received on opening night. What fun that the dance craze of the moment is the same as the dance craze of 1942! There is some serious skirt twirling and heel kicking happening on that stage, and it is lots of fun, even if it is not what Wilder wrote.
A special mention must be made of the endearing Trevor Foehl as Frederick the Dinosaur in Act I. Foehl is not yet out of elementary school, and he was just the cutest little dino I ever saur (ouch!) But seriously, this young man showed great timing and stage presence, and I hope he has lots of fun doing school theatre in the years to come. He was simply destined to play this role however, since his parents, MCLA grads Curt (’84) and Sharon Blackwell (’84) Foehl met as first year students playing the roles of Henry and Gladys Antrobus in the college’s 1981 production of “The Skin of Our Teeth”. An apt coda for a review of a play that is all about humankind’s ability to begin all over again
“The Skin of Our Teeth” runs through October 30 at The Theatre in Venable Hall off of Church Street in North Adams on the MCLA campus. The show runs two hours and forty-five minutes with two intermissions. Call the box off at 413-662-5123 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999