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Paulanne Simmons


"The Skin of Our Teeth": The Heights Players Gives a Masterful Revival of a Masterpiece


The Skin of Our Teeth
Directed by Michael Kidnery
The Heights Players
26 Willow Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Opened March 6, 2015
Fri. & Sat. at 8:00pm, Sun. at 2:00pm
Closes March 22, 2015
Tickets: $20, $18 seniors and children under 18 (718) 237-2752 or www.heightsplayers.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 15, 2015

Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning "The Skin of Our Teeth" opened at Broadway’s Plymouth Theatre on November 18, 1942. The show, an allegorical recounting of man’s fate on earth, was directed by the legendary Elia Kazan and starred the equally legendary Tallulah Bankhead. Since that time, the drama has never returned to the Great White Way.

But have no fear. The show is a perennial favorite of off- and off off-Broadway. And so it was a great pleasure to see The Heights Player's revival of the drama, directed by Michael Kidney and featuring Dina Grilli as Sabina, the maid/beauty queen who has mastered the art of survival, even as she remains a prophetess of doom.

In "The Skin of Our Teeth," Wilder once again strayed from theatrical convention by introducing not only a stage manager/announcer but also the director. What’s more, he has the actors break out of their roles by complaining about the writing or admitting they are having problems with their parts. Combining burlesque, satire and drama, the play recounts the misadventures of the Antrobus family, living in the fictional town of Excelsior, New Jersey.

When we meet the Antrobuses in Act I, George (R.L. Swartz) is inventing the wheel and the alphabet. His wife, Maggie (Malary Lynn Harris) minds the house, but she is not a slouch, having already invented the apron. Henry, formerly known as Cain (Bobby Latrenta), has a violent streak. And his sister Gladys (Erin Hanraty) is discovering makeup, much to her mother’s chagrin. The family has two pets, a Mammoth (Alyson Ryan Fuchs) and a Dinosaur (Hilary Goldman). And the Ice Age is coming.

Act II brings the Antrobus family to an Atlantic City convention where Mr. Antrobus is assuming the presidency of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Mammals, Human Subdivision, and the couple is celebrating their five thousandth wedding anniversary. Sabina, no longer a maid, has just won a beauty contest judged by Mr. Antrobus and is trying to seduce him away from his family. Just in time, the Flood arrives to remind Mr. Antrobus of his duties.

In Act II, George and Henry return from a war in which they have fought on opposite sides. Once more the world must be saved.

The Heights Player's production has captured all the insanity, humanity and humor of Wilder's masterpiece. Swartz, as the all-too-human pater familias, emphasizes the dignity and the pathos of mankind. He artfully mixes despair with an indomitable will to survive. Grilli provides much of the comedy and is a perfect foil to the steadfast Mrs. Antrobus, endowed with courage and warmth by Harris. When things get out of hand, Raymond O. Wagner, as director Fitzpatrick, imparts the proper dose or practicality and composure.

Gary Vander Putten's stage is dominated by a huge circle of swirls painted on the floor. Is this the whirlwind from which God speaks? The sea where we all evolved? Or the infinity of space and time, which Einstein tells us are one and the same? Perhaps those circles are telling us that, as Wilder points out, life will always go on, even if we only make it by "the skin of our teeth."


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