Will Thornton Wilder’s satirical The Skin of Our Teeth appeal to a 21st-century audience? PlayMakers’ Producing Artistic Director, Vivienne Benesch, certainly thinks so.
This high-spirited 1943 Pulitzer Prize-winning play chronicles the travails of the Antrobus family of New Jersey and their maid over the course of some 5,000 years as they survive three distinct disasters layered over periods of modern time. And it is their perseverance that grounds the message of this far-ranging play when the odds seem to favor the extinction of humankind.
Staging this bold undertaking is a challenge that PlayMakers Repertory has risen to brilliantly. Beginning with an impressive set designed by Jan Chambers that re-creates a Depression-era living room that morphs into an Atlantic City Boardwalk, along with appropriately accented lighting from Reza Behjat, accompanied by some truly marvelous video projections and sound elements and McKay Coble’s delightful costumes, the creative team clearly understood the assignment here.
The cast too marvelously inhabit their roles. A delightfully comic Tori Jewell plays Sabina, the melodramatic maid to the Antrobus family and quasi-narrator. Her natural zest in this role adapts seamlessly from addressing the audience directly to becoming an uncooperative participant.
Ray Dooley, in his last performance as a PlayMakers’ company member, demonstrates his incredible versatility as George Antrobus, the family patriarch determined to rebuild after each subsequent crisis while Kathryn Hunter-Williams takes the reins of Maggie Antrobus, never letting go and delivering a particularly captivating moment in the second act.
The Antrobus children, Henry and Gladys, are capably executed by Anthony August and Omolade Wey, respectively. Wey animates the young Gladys and conveys the awareness of maturity while August deftly navigates a range of emotions rooted in the trauma of survival.
Much of the rest of the ensemble take on the heavy weight-lifting of multiple roles that contribute to the wild expanse of the story-telling. Sergio Mauritz Ang gives an especially notable performance as the fortune-teller, commanding attention with his every appearance on stage.
Wilder’s ambitious epic couples ancient time periods with recognizable modern periods, tosses in a generous sprinkling of Biblical references and adds a play-within-a-play convention for good measure. Yet it is the tilt-a-whirl of both the thoughtfulness and riotousness of this journey that is most welcoming and entertaining.
PlayMakers’ production of The Skin of Our Teeth runs through November 28th. For more information visit https://playmakersrep.org/show/the-skin-of-our-teeth/.