- The Skin of Our Teeth
- Written by Thornton Wilder
- Directed by Rahaleh Nassri
- Produced by Rorschach Theatre
- Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Any full scale production of The Skin of Our Teeth nowadays is a tough sell. Thornton Wilder’s 1942 script contains a smorgasbord of messages in as many styles and formats, wraps deep philosophical questions in zany silly putty packaging, spans the millennia covering prehistory to modern dilemmas, and most challenging in today’s uber-fast mentality, clocks in at nearly 3 hours with two intermissions. I was expecting the Rorschach magic to shake the mess out of the script, shed light on the sometimes baffling concepts, rip roar through dead zones and bring a kinetic vitality to the meaningful passages. I’m still baffled why that didn’t happen.
All the key elements were in place, namely, director, Rahaleh Nassri who has been biting at the bit for months to tackle the script while the production company was cast into “exile” from its Casa del Pueblo haven. Seeing what she did with the breathtaking Breath, Boom at Studio, I anxiously anticipated seeing how she would sink her teeth into these images and concepts with the same ferocious energy. Instead, what comes through is a rather mild and safe rendition of the Antrobus (Greek for “family”) journey through human travails that have manifested since the dawn of civilization.
The three acts represent more a state of mind and being than actual epochs with Act I identifying the characters, their sense of identity and relationship to each other. Holding it all together is the father figure, Mr. Antrobus, who is anxiously awaited to return to the household with provisions, comfort and safety from the encroaching Ice Age that is rapidly crushing entire civilizations and super markets inches from their doorstep. From his first entrance through the entire production, Scott McCormick carries the load and burden with might, bluster, and rock solid delivery. McCormick elevates the performance of the rest of the family and household with his sense of urgency and it becomes clear that he is as indispensable in the production as is his character to the script. The nuclear family is the through line in Wilder’s script; relationships are as pivotal here as in his celebrated Our Town and McCormick portrays the father figure with a self-assurance and swagger. Whether he’s right, wrong, just, unfair, sporting Spitzer-like arrogance, or humble-pie humility, McCormick carries it all and is exciting to watch.
Wyckham Avery as his Edith Bunker-like wife seems to acquiesce, twisting and turning to his every whim, but shows glimmers of reinforced steely strength when you least expect it-one can only pity the fool who dares to mess with her family. Cesar A. Guadamuz plays Henry, whose original and official name is apparently Cain, replete with plenty of underlying hints about his tendency to throw rocks at people in uncontrolled rage, so you know where this is going. Although Guadamuz portrays him at a loud single decibel fog horn like level, his sincerity, energy and intensity help balance an effective delivery. Simone Zvi plays the dutiful though precocious daughter Gladys, and Jjana Valentiner rounds out the cast in the pivotal role of Sabina, with a bright-eyed appeal. Sabina does not fit in the typical family structure since she is a cast-off love interest bumped to resentful but dutiful maid/ servile status. With so many unconventional layers to work with, she adds a fresh counterpoint to the family dynamics, whether incompetently letting the fire go out in Act I, trying desperately to shield Mrs. Antrobus from the degradation of being cast off by her husband for a younger prettier model in Act 2, or being drawn back into the family fold after wars reduce everything to sheer survival in the final Act. Valentiner hits the peaks and valleys of Sabina’s rollercoaster life experience with plucky self-assurance.
Scenic and lighting designers Robbie Hayes and Brian Allard effectively use the spacious stage including an added sublevel area, draping huge white plastic sheeting over tall steel scaffolding for the Ice Age. In the final act, the eerie lighting and mist expose bare metal burned out skyscraper-like remains after a blast. Very effective.
WhenThe Skin of Our Teeth opened in 1942, the country was barely out of the clenches of the Great Depression and had just entered World War II after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. With styles ranging from serious to comedic bordering on farce (vaudeville is still prime time) the play depicts the resilience of the human race. Mankind has always been on the edge of catastrophe, and, probably always will be, Wilder tells us, but somehow we escape to begin a new episode, by the skin of our teeth.
Rorschach, too, has demonstrated its own gutsy resilience by securing a solid performance space at the Davis Performing Arts Center, and mounting their entire season over the summer, with sometimes all 3 shows running simultaneously.. Talk about survival by the skin of their teeth.
- Running Time: 2:45 with 2 intermissions
- When: Through August 10th. Thurs – Sat at 7:30, Sunday at 2:30.
- Where: 37th and O Street, Davis Arts Center in Georgetown,NW. Washington, DC
- Tickets: $21
Info: Consult the website