The Valdosta Daily Times
You know certain things walking into Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.”
You know basically that it features immortal versions of Adam and Eve, and their family. You know that it’s by playwright Thornton Wilder who is best known for “Our Town.” And who doesn’t know “Our Town,” one of the most produced plays in American theatre history?
Given the pervasive popularity of “Our Town,” what audiences may forget is Wilder’s unique way of looking at the world. Audiences have become so in tune with “Our Town’s” use of the theatre stage manager as narrator, the reader’s theatre atmosphere, actors miming the use of props, etc., this non-conventional approach has become conventional within the framework of this particular show.
Yet, Wilder’s off-kilter vision is on full comic and thought-provoking display in VSU’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” In this far lesser-known play, audiences will be surprised when actors intentionally break character moving back and forth from their real names to their characters’ names. They may find it disconcerting when the show repeatedly becomes unstuck in time, for example, there’s TV while the Adam archetype is inventing the wheel and creating the alphabet, dinosaurs and mammoths commingling with humans, etc.
VSU Theatre’s Dr. Jimmy Bickerstaff directs a fun evening of theatre as the Antrobus family moves from world-ending disasters such as the Ice Age, the Great Flood, world war, then must rebuild as if nothing has happened. All within an antic comic whirlwind — the end of the world has never been so much fun.
“The Skin of Our Teeth” was written in the 1940s, but Bickerstaff updates the play to include television broadcasts — actual pre-filmed set pieces — and moves the action to the South, Georgia and Valdosta. Characters and actors also move in and out of roles with some wonderful inside jokes as student actors refer to their previous performances in other VSU Theatre productions.
While many may slump at the thought of three acts and two intermissions, this show’s manic intensity never wanes. I often think the one traditional intermission slows down the pace of many shows, and in some cases, I think intermissions should be abolished, but this show never loses its steam thanks to Bickerstaff’s smart pacing and the smart choice of a frenetic soundtrack between acts that had several audience members tapping their feet and dancing in their seats. Even with two intermissions, for those who enjoy absurdist fun with an insightful message, the evening flies by.
The cast seems to enjoy itself non-stop through this show. “The Skin of Our Teeth” features a marvelous ensemble cast with stand-out performances by its leads.
Charlotte Grady plays Sabina, who more than any other character serves as our tour guide through the show’s cyclical action. She is the one called to purposefully “break” character most often as she moves from Sabina who warns her fellow characters of impending doom, or urges them to ignore impending doom, or breaks the news that impending doom has passed, to Charlotte who warns the audience that the next part of the show is depressing or that some things never change. She makes these transitions in a flawless manner. A brilliant performance.
Sam Raffield and D’Amante Wilson play Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, the Adam and Eve archetypes. They provide humor but their antics are weighted by the show’s drama.
Raffield imbues Mr. Antrobus with a Fred Flintstone/Jackie Gleason sense of purpose, but Raffield creates visceral tension as he expresses frustrated outrage with his circumstances; watch for the expressions of disgusted disappointment which Raffield’s Mr. Antrobus brings to bear on his son Henry, played by Will Stanley. Within a moment’s passing, Raffield can have an audience quaking with laughter then shuddering uncomfortably.
Wilson’s Mrs. Antrobus levels similar withering looks at Mr. Antrobus. Wilson plays the show’s most serious character, the mother of mankind, the first woman to endure not only the loss of a child but the failures of a husband. Even when she becomes flustered with Mr. Antrobus and her children, or others laugh behind her back because of her husband’s foibles, or the world is ready to crash down around her, Wilson’s Mrs. Antrobus maintains a cool air of dignity.
“The Skin of Our Teeth” is a play worth sinking your teeth into.
This review is based on Wednesday night’s dress-rehearsal performance.
VSU Theatre & Dance’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” continues 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Feb. 21-23; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24; 7:30 p.m., Feb. 25-27, Lab Theatre, second floor, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. Reservations, more information: More information: Call (229) 333-5973; or visit www.valdosta.edu/comarts