Long before the spate of apocalyptic science fiction disaster films with movie stars like Will Smith wandering through crumbling metropolises, there was the great American dramatist Thornton Wilder’s play The Skin of Our Teeth. A theatrical mixture of tragedy, comedy, farce, satire and surrealism, the play was written at the end of 1941, a bleak time for America; the Great Depression had devastated the country, the world was at war again and Pearl Harbor had just been bombed. Opening on Broadway in 1942, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 and 73 years later continues to be performed throughout the world. The Articulate Theater Company, an ensemble driven company started in 2013, have mounted a fun production of The Skin of Our Teeth, creatively meeting the challenges of a play where the fourth wall is broken regularly and each of the three acts’ settings are world disasters: the ice age, the Flood and war.
The survival of the human race is told through the eyes of the Antrobus family from Excelsior, New Jersey. Mr. and Mrs. George Antrobus (stand-ins for Adam and Eve) are the typical suburban married couple. They have two children, Gladys, their daughter, who is perfect in every way, and Henry (formerly known as Cain), who has anger management issues and threw the stone that killed his brother Abel, a family secret Mrs. Antrobus does her best to hide. The household also includes Sabina, the maid, and their two pets, a wooly mammoth and a dinosaur.
Director Cat Parker has contemporized the script with some topical references, cleverly uses video (brilliantly designed by Eric Siegel) for the opening of each act and surrounds the audience with action. Pacing is slow in places, but hopefully as the run continues, this will iron itself out. Bare bones production values are filled with imagination, creating just the right atmosphere -- especially the wooly mammoth and dinosaur masks made from cardboard boxes, empty paper towel rolls and tape. Two ensemble actors played these extinct pets with charm and gumption.
The entire cast tells the story with commitment. David Palmer Brown as Mr. Antrobus gives us an everyman dedicated to perseverance and betterment of the human race, with just the right touches of bluster and lust, while Joanne Dorian as Mrs. Antrobus radiates the calm, determined demeanor of a mother who’ll keep her family safe and together at all costs. Mr. Brown and Ms. Dorian have a nice rapport as a couple who have been married for 5,000 years. Diane Terrusa is delightful as the perfect Daddy’s girl who has trouble keeping her skirt down and Peter Collier, as the misunderstood and volatile son, gives a viscerally commanding performance, especially in Act III. Jennifer Wilson McGuire in the scene stealing role of Sabina (originated by Tallulah Bankhead) is saucy, sexy and very funny. Standouts include Bob Jester’s weary Stage Manager, Carolyn Seiff’s wise Fortune Teller and many great small moments by ensemble members Cynthia Shaw, Michael Pichardo, Desmond Dutcher, Adam Perabo, Andrew Bridge, Molly Collier, Alexander Moitzi and Mary Monahan.