None of it would surprise Thornton Wilder. In his "The Skin of Our Teeth," the Antrobus family faces an Ice Age, then a great flood, then a devastating war. On another, pirandellian level, the play itself is in danger - from a character who talks at certain lines, from a back-stage outbreak of food poisoning.
Nevertheless, humanity survives. And the play does even better - it thrives, nearly 50 years after it was written. Two-thirds of it, at least.
The first two acts of Todd Nielsenís revival at the Colonyís Studio Theatre Playhouse are a funny, eye-popping cartoon, with surprising bite. This "Skin of Our Teeth" puts its teeth under our skin.
Itís a miracle that these Antrobuses survive. Mr Antrobus (Robert OíReilly) is a wall-eyed fellow with a look that alternates between lunacy and lethargy. This is someone who invented the wheel and the multiplication tables? He hardly inspires great confidence, but then few of our leaders do.
This Mrs. Antrobus (Judith Heinz) has the look of a 50's sitcom wife/mom whose problems are somewhat more severe than Donna Reedís or Harriet Nelsonís. Note the tense muscles surrounding that smile. Heinzís husky voice anchors the character and helps establish her strength.
Lindy Nisbet has a gloriously twittering voice as the maid Sabina. She also pouts perfectly and seduces with high comic style, abetted by Karen Wellerís ruby-red second-act outfits.
The Antrobus kids (Ceptembre Anthony, Kent Stoddard) are no sluggards in the pouting department either. Never before had I realized how young Gladys is such a parody of young Emily from Wilderís "Our Town." And Stoddard Henry is a snarling prototype of sullen youth.
Despite its cheery colors, the skeletal frame of the Antrobus home, designed by Kenton Jones and lit by Jamie McAllister, threatens to collapse at every passing breeze. And much more than a passing breeze is apparent here; Jones designed a wall of white fabric "ice" that gradually creeps forward during the first act, stranding the Antrobuses at the front of the stage. During Act II, the flood is represented in a similar comic-strip style.
All that scenery requires long set changes during the two intermission, but the action continues with bits of comic business from the extras, in the lobby and even on the sidewalk outside the theater. And Vince Acostaís sound design punctuates the action with a series of whiz-bang effects, executed by the onstage Debra J. Rogers.
Thereís only one problem with director Nielsenís approach: the third act. The final optimism is problematic enough in Wilderís script, but it seems especially unwarranted when the Antrobuses are presented as such extreme boobs and bunglers earlier in the play. Not that the actors can be faulted; OíReilly in particular assumes a straight face and approaches Act III as the soul-searcher that Antrobus has become.
The production remains investigative throughout. A few of the gags seem gratuitous, but itís a treat to see such an elaborately clever production in a small theater during the post-Waiver Age.
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