Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

February 19, 2013

VSU Theatre settles into life with a 20,000-year-old couple

VALDOSTA — Immortality has its ups and downs. Just watch the lives of George and Maggie Antrobus in Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” opening later this week.

The Antrobuses have been married for thousands of years. They have two children, Henry and Gladys, “though it hasn’t always been the same two,” and an immortal maid named Sabina.

While comic in nature, the plays also explores themes regarding the cyclical nature of humanity. For example, Henry may well be the biblical Cain who murdered his brother Abel, which would suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus may be Adam and Eve, banging around outside of the Garden of Eden for the rest of human history.

Playwright Thornton Wilder won three Pulitzer Prizes for his writing. He won two Pulitzers for his plays, “The Skin of Our Teeth” and his most well-known work, “Our Town,” and one Pulitzer for his novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”

 Through three acts, “The Skin of Our Teeth” makes numerous biblical references as the Antrobus family makes its way through the maelstroms of history.

With its plot twists of ice ages and end-of-the-world scenarios, Dr. Jimmy Bickerstaff, director of the VSU production, finds it interesting that Wilder began exploring these within weeks of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even more intriguing, Wilder had already decided to create a play of cataclysm as comedy.

Scrapping the early working title of “The Ends of the Worlds,” Wilder realized “that homey and realistic conversation was not going to be up to the subject matter; it would seem too pathetic, declamatory, and grand in style,” Bickerstaff says in his director’s notes. “‘The only remaining possibility,’ (Wilder) wrote, ‘is the comic, the grotesque, and the muyth as mock-heroic.’ So he decided to write a comedy.”

Wilder also realized a play about a couple of 20,000-year-olds would need a different tone. Touching upon the works of James

 Joyce and early Western theatre, Wilder broke the conventions of realistic theatre, using “the theatre performance itself as a way to surprise the audience and make these comic characters into ‘generalized beings,’ representatives of the human family who live out the ‘mock-heroic’ myth of our uncertainty,” Bickerstaff notes.

To add to the fun, which Bickerstaff says is appropriate for audiences of all ages, the VSU production brings the action closer to home. While Wilder set the story in New York State and Atlantic City, Bickerstaff sets the scene in Alpharetta, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., complete with a mammoth and a dinosaur.

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