Richard and I saw *The Skin of Our Teeth* at Theatre For a New Audience on 2/18. I've loved this play for years but had never seen a production of it. I did costumes for a high school production back in the day, but that doesn't count, does it?
Thornton Wilder wrote it in 1942, in the looming shadow of WW II. I would describe it as an American heartland spin on magical realism. The first act takes place in the living room of the Antrobus family in suburban New Jersey. It looks like a typical 1942 middle-class American home, but then a glacier is forging its way through the Northeast, the family has a pet dinosaur, and Mr. Antrobus has just invented the wheel. My favorite line from the play - - he sends a telegram from work: "A major breakthrough today: have separated M from N!"
The second act takes place in Atlantic City. Mr. Antrobus has been elected President of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Mammals. Two delegates from other orders are in attendance and there's a great storm a-brewing. The heavy-handed Old Testament reference is lightened by the whimsical tone and the sleazy setting. The second act felt a little long, probably because they ran it immediately after the first act, without a break. And the third act is sort of post-apocalypse. Richard and I both slept a fair amount in the third act, so I can't give much of a report. The ending was touching.
I would place the play in one of my favorite genres: it was a Glorious Mess. Lots to like but perhaps has bitten off more than it can chew. A show like this is often seen as a "neglected masterpiece," but it's really not too hard to see why it's been neglected. Or why it's a masterpiece, for that matter.
The brightest light in the play is the character of Sabina, the Antrobus's maid. She's a wisecracker and often addresses the audience directly, usually about how she doesn't understand the play and wishes she was in something better! Tallulah Bankhead originated the role, I can only imagine how brilliant she was. Mary Martin played the role in a 1955 revival, and I saw a production on TV in 1983 with Blair Brown (also with Harold Gould and Sada Thompson as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus and Rue McClanahan as the Fortune Teller). The production we saw had recent Juilliard grad Mary Wiseman as Sabina - - she was adorable and full of verve.
My friend Scott Seyforth saw the infamous Kander and Ebb adaptation a few years ago, with the late Dorothy Loudon as the narrator. Bernadette Peters, Bebe Neuwirth, and Sherie Rene Scott all played Sabina in that show - - now THAT I would have loved to have seen.