Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” at Germantown Avenue’s Quintessence Theater runs now until August.
Author-humorist-playwright Thornton Wilder’s existentialist dramatic comedy, The Skin of Our Teeth, (or wildly comedic drama, take your pick. Both are correct…) has long been considered one of adventurous theater’s most unbound productions. Originally directed by the (then) young lion of experimental theater, Elia Kazan (before his A Streetcar Named Desire), Wilder offered audiences a multi-dimensional, fourth-wall crashing, time period shifting three-part allegory about the arcs of mankind. Framed by the Antrobus family of the fictional town of Excelsior, NJ, and their assistant/maid Sabina, the grand comedy-drama is an original of non-conforming, unorthodox American theater.
Yet, for all of the established theatrical conventions that Wilder’s Skin broke, in the time of its premiere, as well as its continued stagings, in the estimation of Philadelphia’s Alexander Burns, the Artistic Director of Germantown Avenue’s Quintessence Theater and the director of its virtual run at The Skin of Our Teeth (up until August 1), Wilder’s dramedy is not the “absurd” vision as portrayed by so many critics (think Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake or Beckett’s Waiting for Godot), but, rather the self-referential metatheatre of Wilder’s own Our Town.
In The Skin of Our Teeth, as in Our Town, actors talk as themselves or refer to themselves in the first or third person not unlike Wilder’s stage manager of the theater in Our Town who directly addresses the audience, or fields questions from the gathered audience, or jumps into the action tackling some of its roles. Only here, the actors jump through the cool and fire-y hoops of 5,000 years of human history, ice ages, great floods and more.
Philadelphia actors Leigha Kato, Lee Cortopassi and Jacinta Yelland, along with married couple co-stars (Tony Award winner for Dear Evan Hansen) Rachel Bay Jones and Benim Foster (as Mrs. Maggie Antrobus and Mr. George Antrobus) make merry and meta throughout Skin. That is particularly true, according to Burns as the married couple is working their own relationship out, on their own, while winding through the emotional intricacies of the maternal/paternal couple they play on Skin’s stage. Plus, Foster appeared at Quintessence as Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, had a great time with Burns, and offered his services – and that of his wife – whenever needed. Covid happened. Theater became the providence of Zoom and pre-recorded filming sessions, and bang, the virtual Thornton at Quintessence until August 1 is ours.
On July 31, there will be a Q & A with Amos Tappen Wilder on the wooly work of Thornton at 2 pm ET.
And remember, the title comes from the King James Bible, the Book of Job 19:20: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth;” relevant to us now as all of us have gotten by, and are existing, currently, by the skin of our teeth.