Humor found in adversity in “The Skin of Our Teeth”

Dinosaurs, biblical themes, and 1950s suburban New Jersey are some of the many things that juxtapose each other in the Thornton Wilder penned play “The Skin of Our Teeth”. The SCSU theatre department is performing “The Skin of Our Teeth”, directed by associate professor Jeffrey Bleam.

“I’ve always enjoyed the play, or I’ve always wanted to enjoy the play,” Bleam said, ever since discovering “The Skin of Our Teeth” while in high school. A Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Skin of Our Teeth” was first performed on Oct. 12, 1942. The play is a three-part allegory that was originally set in 1940s New Jersey, but also involves prehistoric plot-lines.

Bleam described the play as trying to present the perfect family while dealing with real imperfections. Bleam said the play was originally very long, and included 35 actors, but Bleam spent the previous semester cutting the play down to 90 minutes and just nine actors, four of whom play a variety of different roles.

The play centers on family, the husband and wife of George and Maggie Antrobus (Antrobus is greek for human), and their children Henry and Gladys. The characters are also attributed to biblical personalities, George and Maggie being Adam and Eve, and Henry as Cain, who murdered the third sibling Abel. The play sees the Antrobus family live through the ice age, the great flood, and to catastrophic war, all while set in a modern New Jersey. By modern, that is the 1950s.

Bleam said he chose to set the play in the 1950s because he found something very 1950s in the play, and thought it was ahead of its time when it first came out in 1942. Bleam said he also set the play in 1957 because that was the year famous black-and-white sitcoms like “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Donna Reed Show” were first on air. The chipper ideal american families in those shows are reflected in this play, especially the videos that the cast filmed in black and white, and in front of UTVS’s green screen, for the play.

Though the play shows a 1950s suburban family, the play shows a challenge of feminine stereotypes, especially in the character of Maggie Antrobus. SCSU junior Jessica Peters plays the role of Maggie, which Peters said is the biggest role she has had in the four SCSU productions she has performed in. “It’s one of the most interesting and more developed characters I’ve played”, Peters said about the role of Maggie. Though Peters did say it was a challenge to play a character who is mostly stagnant while the rest of the cast has more evolving characters.

A difficult aspect of the play for Bleam was the challenge of the cast finding the sense of heightened theatricality. Bleam said the cast has to juggle multiple personas. Overall Bleam said the play is about striking the balance of “how we can focus on moving ahead and making the world a better place, without being too serious about that.”

Bleam said that he was attempting to get at the core of what Thornton Wilder was trying to say, and finding the comedy for the college-age audience who will see this play. Bleam described how the humor in this play is more accessible than it was in 1942, because today people are more accustomed to finding humor in adversity.

Peters described the tone of the play as being more of a comedy with serious issues being tackled. Peters said she likes the craziness of the play and serious tone as well. After all, there is a dinosaur in the first act.

“The Skin of Our Teeth” will be performed at the Performing Arts Center Center Stage from Feb. 24 through March 1, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. The play is free to SCSU students with their student I.D.

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