Review: The Skin of Our Teeth


Now in its second year, Silverthorne Theater Company is the Valley’s newest and, from the evidence, most adventurous summer fixture. The three-play season is intriguing and challenging: a world premiere, an edgy biracial comedy, and for starters, a sprawling allegorical epic.

That one, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, plays through this weekend in the Sloan Theater at Greenfield Community College. It’s a big, boisterous play with a large cast (I count 16 named roles plus extras) and a lot on its mind. It’s being performed, miraculously, in the summer’s smallest venue with a cast of eight and no set. The fact that it works, and works splendidly, is due largely to director Toby Vera Bercovici’s inspired use of the space and playful interaction with the material – shades of S&Co’s Henry V on a much smaller budget.

Wilder wrote the play in 1942 as a whimsical, sardonic tribute to the indomitable human spirit that was supposed to get us through the war. It’s the story of a typical suburban New Jersey family, the Antrobuses – except Act One takes place in the Stone Age, Mr. and Mrs. have been married for 5,000 years, and son Henry (remember?) is troubled by the guilt of having slain his brother. In other words, the Antrobuses are both the Typical Family and the Original Family.

Wilder not only toys with time and history here, but monkeys with theatrical conventions. The family’s maid, Sabina (Linda Tardif, playfully sexy) starts the proceedings by breaking the fourth wall to address the audience, then quickly breaks character to give us her (low) opinion of the play. The playwright and director keep us similarly off balance throughout. Act Two takes place at a convention of the Fraternal Order of Mammals in Atlantic City, where a boardwalk fortune teller (a sultry Audrey Jacinthe Connor) cryptically assures us that the past is trickier to predict than the present. In Act Three, the family emerges from the rubble of war and the play takes another tradition-smashing leap.

Michael Bird is Mr. Antrobus, the very model of the genial father-knows-best patriarch. As Mrs. A., Susanna Apgar strikes a nice balance between the supportive spouse and the tigress determined to claw her way through history’s disasters. Connor Paradis is appropriately moody and rebellious as haunted Henry, and Annalise Cain finds comic nuggets in the underwritten role of his bratty teenage sister.

The play’s shifting planes of reality and the production’s bare-stage presentation are reflected in the multitasking props, from an Our Town stepladder to a length of flexible foil ducting that becomes a mammoth’s trunk, a judge’s powdered wig and an accordion. While Bercovici and her actors make ingenious use of the entire room, from floor to catwalk, they’re hampered by its lecture-hall origins and unnecessary barriers between audience and actors. With a little investment and renovation, the Sloan Theater has the potential to be an attractive and valuable performance space in this venue-starved Valley.