By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Jeff Christian
At The Artistic Home, Chicago
Wilder’s satirical drama, The Skin of Our Teeth has enough bite to satisfy
“That’s all we do—always beginning again! Over and over again. Always beginning again.”
“Don’t forget that a few years ago we came through the depression by the skin of our teeth! One more tight squeeze like that and where will we be?” -Sabrina
The Artistic Home, under Jeff Christian’s smart staging, has another ambitious American classic well in hand. The Skin of Our Teeth is a tough play to mount as it is complex and a tad unyielding. Innovative staging, a quick pace as well as strong actors equally at ease with comedy as well as drama are required to have a chance to do Wilder’s biting satire justice. I’m happy to report that Christian and the cast at The Artistic Home have mounted a most spirited and worthy production.
Wilder’s 1942 Pulitzer Prize winner is an ageless and amazingly inventive portrayal of the human condition. It is a cautionary tale that stylistically and theatrically presents a capsule look at the history of man from the ice age through the Jazz age of the 1920’s to the culmination of a sever year war.
With an ode to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Thornton Wilder breaks with many theatrical conventions including having the stage manager stop the play to make announcements to Sabrina (Maria Stephens) going off script to directly address the audience. Wilder names his family the ‘Antrobus’ meaning human or person in Greek. The son, Henry (Nick Horast) changed his name from Cain after murdering his brother Able. Biblical references and archetypes populate Wilder’s drama. Smart use of video ‘news clips’ enhances the work.
Satirical humor, a woolly mammoth and a dinosaur are present as Act One (of three acts spread over 2 hours, 40 minutes) as the maid, Sabina narrates and sets-up the inventive story concerning the Antrobus family. George Antrobus (John Mossman) is the learned Adam figure while Maggie Antrobus (Kathy Scambiatterra) is the Eve persona. They are on the brink of the ice age followed by the great flood and ending just after a seven year war.
The satire reeks much humor as the manic pace keeps the work fresh. Through the Antrobus family and their maid (terrific work from Maria Stephens), Wilder depicts the progression of humanity as it teeters on the brink of disaster. These is high emotion, wild comedy filled with hopefulness as it swings from the life cycle of basic existence to survival and triumph as humans prove their resilience and will to survive.
The ensemble work here is first-class and the real life husband and wife team of John Mossman and Kathy Scambiatterra anchor the work with their steadfast and truthful performances as the Antrobus parents. See this show and appreciate both Thornton Wilder’s provocative work and the Artistic Home’s high production values.
At The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 866-811-4111, www.theartistichome.org, Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with 2 intermissions.