This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Thornton Wilder (April 17, 1897-December 7, 1975). To celebrate the enduring legacy of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and novelist, Lincoln Center Theater is presenting a new Broadway revival of his monumental opus The Skin of Our Teeth at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Updated with additional material by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon), the timely production, re-centered on the Black experience in America, is directed by 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Lileana Blain-Cruz (Marys Seacole) in an entertaining and resonant Broadway debut.

Roslyn Ruff, Julian Robertson, James Vincent Meredith, and Paige Gilbert. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Written by Wilder in 1942, at the height of WWII, the three-act surreal/absurdist allegory illuminates the endurance of humankind, repeatedly on the brink of extinction, from the Ice Age to the Biblical flood and the devastation of war, through the life of the everyday Antrobus family (the name derived from the Greek anthropos, or human) in the fictional town of Excelsior, NJ. With the current war in Ukraine, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the rise in violent crime, it’s a show that speaks to our present time with humor and insight, while delivering the uplifting message that, despite all the devastation and struggles, the human spirit is strong, life is worth living, the world will not end, and we will survive the recurrent cycles of history.

The time-traveling play is overflowing with intentional anachronisms, quotations from the great philosophers and the Bible (including the title), and direct-address meta-theatrical breaks through the fourth wall, along with a subplot of familial dysfunction, contributing to its innovative complexity and insightful humor. Act I opens in the Antrobus’s mid-century-style living room, as a massive glacier approaches and the cold and snow of the Ice Age engulf them. The second act shifts to the Atlantic City boardwalk in the Roaring Twenties but relays the Old Testament story of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark. And Act III is set back in the family’s living room, now destroyed by war, but with a view of the flourishing landscape behind, demonstrating the resilience of nature and the resurgence of life. Each part is preceded by a news broadcast projected on a large background screen, with a mashup of disparate eras and events, in keeping with the show’s overall pan-temporal style.

Julian Robertson, Roslyn Ruff, and Paige Gilbert. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes.

It is all masterfully evoked by a top-notch creative team. Sets by Adam Rigg, projections by Hannah Wasileski, lighting by Yi Zhao, sound by Palmer Hefferan, and costumes by Montana Levi Blanco shift from eye-popping, lively, and colorful to dark, dreary, and broken to suit the moods of the acts and the action, as the over-the-top comedy of the first two parts gives way to the dramatic and dismal effects of war in the third. Of special note are the large-scale dinosaur and wooly mammoth puppets, designed and directed by James Ortiz and worked by Jeremy Gallardo, Beau Thom, Alphonso Walker Jr., and Sarin Monae West, which represent the irresistibly cute and affectionate Ice-Age family pets.

And it is all engagingly delivered by the LCT cast, with a large and talented ensemble (Eunice Bae, Terry Bell, Ritisha Chakraborty, William DeMeritt, Avery Glymph, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Noor Hamdi, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Maya Jackson, Anaseini Katoa, Cameron Keitt, Megan Lomax, Kathiamarice Lopez, Lindsay Rico, Julian Rozzell, Jr., Julyana Soelistyo, Phillip Taratula, and Adrienne Wells, along with Gallardo, Thom, Walker, and West) providing fine support for the leads. Their characters range from the refugees seeking food and warmth during the glaciation, to the strange denizens of the boardwalk amusements, to the house staff and production team asked by the stage manager during a major meta-theatrical aside to fill in for sick members of the cast (a scene that is original to Wilder’s story but uncannily apropos of today’s frequent positive COVID tests shutting down performances).

The company. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Under Blain-Cruz’s exuberant direction, the lead actors are fully committed to boisterous performances parodying the zaniness of a sit-com, until the sobering realities of war, the antipathy between father and son, and the need to learn from past mistakes, history, and literature take hold in Act III. James Vincent Meredith as the actively inventive and unfaithful Mr. Antrobus is more devoted to his books and his creation of the wheel, the alphabet, and mathematics for the advancement of knowledge in the first act, and his position as President of the Fraternal Order of Mammals in the second, than he is to his wife and son. By comparison, Roslyn Ruff as Mrs. Antrobus provides the voice of control and authority in the household, with Paige Gilbert and Julian Robertson capturing the youthfulness and rebelliousness of their children Gladys and Henry.

In the role of their maid Sabina, who morphs into the beauty queen/seductress Lilly Sabina in Act II, Gabby Beans turns in deliberately histrionic portrayals, hilariously prancing and posing, overdoing her characters’ accents, and then breaking character and speaking in a normal voice to the audience to express her dislike of the play, inability to understand what’s going on, and refusal to say the offensive lines she’s been given, reassuring everyone that the world is not coming to an end. “People exaggerate,” she says – and she would know! It’s an incisive example of the sharp observant wit of the show. Rounding out the cast is Tony Award-winner Priscilla Lopez as the eerie Fortune Teller, who predicts the coming disaster in Act II.

The Skin of Our Teeth is long, densely packed, and demanding, but the message is worth the investment of time and attention. There are age-old truths told in an amusing way, exposing the dangers of the world and the flaws of people, while reaffirming the never-ending cycles of life and the eternal hope for advancement.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 50 minutes, including one brief pause and one intermission.

The Skin of Our Teeth plays through Sunday, May 29, 2022, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, 165 West 65th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $49-225), call (212) 239-6200, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times when inside.

Before you go, you can watch a montage of the production here:


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