In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review a rare revival of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth in Washington, D.C. Here’s an excerpt.
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Theatre for a New Audience’s 2017 revival of “The Skin of Our Teeth” was cause for rejoicing among a generation of New York playgoers who, like me, had never before had the opportunity to see a professional production of Thornton Wilder’s 1942 tragicomedy about the history of the world. “The Skin of Our Teeth” calls for a huge ensemble of actors—40, according to the program for the Broadway premiere—which puts it out of reach of virtually all of today’s cash-strapped drama companies. That Theatre for a New Audience still managed to bring a first-rate version to the stage was a not-so-minor miracle, one I didn’t expect to see repeated any time soon.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Constellation Theatre Company, a scrappy but well-regarded troupe whose specialty is “epic stories in an intimate space,” announced that it was reviving Wilder’s play with a cast of 13 at Source, a 100-seat black-box theater in Washington, D.C. I knew at once that I had to go, and to say I wasn’t disappointed is the happiest of understatements. Constellation’s production isn’t perfect—it couldn’t have been, since big, baggy plays like “The Skin of Our Teeth” don’t lend themselves to gem-like stagings—but Mary Hall Surface’s high-spirited version is festive, imaginative, and completely involving.
The Antrobuses, on whom the action is centered, appear to be Wilder’s version of a middle-class sitcom-type family (husband, housewife, two cute kids and a sexy maid). Within a few minutes, though, we learn that they’re all 5,000 years old and that the the play begins in the Ice Age, after which we move forward in time with vertiginous speed, first to the Great Flood and then to World War II. What we have here, in short, is a parable, a symbolic tale of how humankind copes with disaster. But “The Skin of Our Teeth” is also a screwball tragedy, one in which events of the gravest import are portrayed with a farce-flavored lightness of touch.
Moreover, Wilder’s tragic vision, here as in “Our Town,” is fundamentally optimistic, though never naïvely so….
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for The Skin of Our Teeth: