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Theater review: Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth is still crazy after 75 years

Theater review: Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth is still crazy after 75 years
Photograph: Henry Grossman
David Rasche and Mary Wiseman

★★★☆☆

Thornton Wilder's 1942 allegory The Skin of Our Teeth takes place in no time and every time at once, but its concerns seem especially timely at present. New Jersey resident George Antrobus (a vague David Rasche), who may also be the biblical Adam, is the inventor of the wheel, the alphabet and mathematics; his wife, Maggie (the staunch Kecia Lewis), takes care of their kids, murderous Henry (Reynaldo Piniella) and gentle Gladys (Kimber Monroe), with help from their cheeky maid, Sabina (Mary Wiseman, as refreshing as a dollop of sour cream). In each of the play’s three acts, disaster strikes: the Ice Age, the Great Flood, a devastating war. But the show must go on, and does.

Wilder’s tragicomic long view of history, with its cycles of apocalypse and rebirth, speaks to those who fear the worst, and some of The Skin of Our Teeth’s details—catastrophic climate change, a flood of refugees—are thick in the air we now gasp to breathe. But the style of the play has aged less well. Having influenced generations of avant-garde theater, Wilder’s nonlinear storytelling and metatheatrical trickery have lost much of their surprise, and his symbolism often feels heavy. Arin Arbus’s staging for Theatre for a New Audience prods this unwieldy epic forward; the 35 performers deliver fine new songs by César Alvarez and don pleasing costumes by Cait O’Connor. (Prefiguring the Flintstones, the Antrobuses have a dinosaur and mammoth as pets.) What’s missing is a more intimate sense of the central family as human beings and not merely archetypes. It’s a treat to see this seminal work on its feet; its last major New York revival was almost 20 years ago. But the play’s strange comfort has gone a little cold.

Theatre for a New Audience (Off Broadway). By Thornton Wilder. Dir. Arin Arbus. With David Rasche, Kecia Lewis, Mary Wiseman. Through Mar 19. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

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Comments

1 comments
Michael A
Michael A

"...as refreshing as a dollop of sour cream." Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Or, since when is sour cream refreshing in any circumstance on anything?