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AMERICAN PLAYWRIGHT Thornton Wilder called The Skin of Our Teeth “the most ambitious project I have ever approached.” And no wonder. The play mixes the early 1940s with prehistoric times, ancient Greece, the Bible, and classic literature. And it’s still current for our day. Indeed, I encountered sufficient resonance to split things into two parts, today and tomorrow.
Thornton Wilder was the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes: for the novel The Bridges of San Luis Rey, 1927; and the plays Our Town, 1938, and The Skin of Our Teeth, 1942.
Wilder’s Our Town was a popular high school drama project. It was also a 1940 flick with an Aaron Copland-composed movie score. Wilder’s The Merchant of Yonkers, 1938, evolved into the 1964 Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! And The Skin of Our Teeth was memorable as a cosmic comedy of mankind’s history.
The Skin of Our Teeth had its pre-Broadway premiere on October 15, 1942, at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. This production starred Tallulah Bankhead, Fredric March, Florence Eldridge, and Montgomery Clift.
The play has had revivals since 1942, most recently off-Broadway as described in The New York Times, February 28, 2017. This production by the Theatre for a New Audience won 2017 Obie Awards for Directing and Performance.
The play’s title comes from the King James Bible, Job 19:20: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”
Colleague Greg Brown may be amused to read that the Wikipedia item suggests similarities between The Skin of Our Teeth and an online hobby of his, James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Even The Thornton Wilder Society says The Skin of Our Teeth was influenced by Finnegan’s Wake as well as by “German expressionism, vaudeville, burlesque, and Wilder’s own one-acts.”
The principal characters in The Skin of Our Teeth are George and Maggie Antrobus (from the Greek, άνθρωπος anthropos, human); their two children Henry and Gladys; and Sabina, the family maid in Acts 1 and 3, a beauty queen temptress in Act 2.
That Sabina has these contrasting personas is part of the fun. Tomorrow, she and the Antrobus family contend with a world ”at sixes and sevens,” complete with climate change, a flood of biblical proportions, dangers of extinction, and other happenings that test their mettle.
Sound familiar? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018