In late 1942, when our country was a year into World War II, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth opened on Broadway. Wilder, whose Our Town dramatized the lives of one small community over a period of 12 years, expanded his sight a bit with a play that covers all of human existence as experienced by a single, suburban New Jersey family.
The show opens in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus (Steven Price and Christine Macomber), who reside there with their two children and their maid, Sabina (Nina Point Dujour). The family is desperate to keep their home fire burning because, you see, a glacier is overtaking New Jersey. Soon, the family is breaking up anything in the house than can be burned to save their lives, the lives of their pet dinosaur and wooly mammoth, and a bunch of refugees they’ve let into the house, including Homer and Moses.
Confused yet? Well, that’s just the first act.
The second act takes us to Atlantic City, where Mr. Antrobus has just been elected president of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Mammals, Subdivision Human. He wishes to run away with bingo parlor hostess/newly elected Miss Atlantic City Lily Sabina Fairweather (also Dujour) and end his 5,000-year-old marriage. A great flood intervenes, but thankfully there’s a big boat nearby with room for the Antrobus family—and two of every creature.
Got it now? Well, the third act takes us back to what remains of the Antrobus home after the conclusion of a seven-year war. Mr. Antrobus has lost the will to start over, having done so for millennia. Will humanity survive? Of course it will, as we circle back to the beginning of the show because, as Sabina tells the audience, “the end of this play has not been written.”
Director Molly Noble has her hands full with Skin of Our Teeth, as unconventional a piece of theater as one could imagine, and she pulls it off. Characters addressing the audience, Biblical references, anachronisms strewn freely throughout, stopping mid-play for additional rehearsal—Wilder seems to have thrown everything in but the kitchen sink.
Ah, but there was a method to his madness and Nobles’ large cast of local theater veterans and College of Marin students honor the playwright’s not-as-absurd-or-as-long-as-it-sounds vision. Might a message of optimism in the face of repeated disaster and the indomitable human spirit resonate with audiences today?
‘The Skin of Our Teeth’ runs through March 16 at the College of Marin James Dunn Theatre, 835 College Ave., Kentfield. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $10–$20. 415.485.9385. pa.marin.edu.