October, 2016---This past few months, a lot of people (and you are probably one) found themselves feeling like the world was spinning too fast and out of control. Deadly viruses, a refugee crisis, mass shootings, floods, holy wars, demagoguery, corruption, hatred, bigotry and fear, fear, FEAR!! Not to mention, how many new shows or bestselling books take place in a post apocalyptic dystopia? Why are people so drawn to this grim genre? All of this focus on the end of days seemed to signal that humanity was done. We had strutted and fretted our time on the stage, but now the great curtain was about to close. So when it came time for me to begin preparing for this directing this show I stared at my computer in a funk for two whole days muttering “Why bother? People suck.”
Then I re-read Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece The Skin of Our Teeth and found its characters facing the exact same plagues, migrations, climate changes, and conflagrations with the same confusion and awe that I was experiencing. The character of Sabina perfectly echoed my feeling that “people suck” by expressing ---“We’re all just as wicked as we can be, and that’s the God’s truth.” But then Sabina, in true Sisyphean fashion, picks up her cleaning supplies and starts the play all over again; trying to wipe away the mess that civilization has left behind.
It is powerful images like this, I believe, which make The Skin of Our Teeth one of the greatest plays ever written about the human experience. It’s ever shifting blend of theatrical styles reminds us that our lives are not dictated by a set mode of being. Our life has moments that are as tragic as Greek drama, as ridiculous as Farce, as unsettling as a nightmare, as calming as an old bedtime story. Wilder’s play operates in deep phenomenological ways. In this play identities, time, space, and history, are in a constant state of change. Emotions and alliances can switch in a heartbeat. Love and Hate, Chaos and Creativity are the Yin and Yang locked in a comically terrifying and revoltingly beautiful struggle.
Wilder wrote this play on the eve of WWII and believed that this play would come “most alive under conditions of crisis.” I believe we meet those conditions today. The members of the Antrobus Family (from the greek Anthropos---“the family of man”) represent archetypal characters and universal human psychology and will. But through the use of a meta-theatrical framework, Wilder also allows us to know the actors playing the actors that are playing the characters in The Skin of Our Teeth. It is most often through those moments, when the actor separates from their role, that we are able to view genuine acts of human empathy and compassion. These mirrors the moments when we, as actors in our own life/dramas, need to stop and process the absurdity, horror, and futility of the play we are forever performing in a never ending cyclical repertory. With those few fleeting glimpses of humanity, Wilder reminds us of the potential moments in our own lives when we can discover purpose and clarity.
Until, of course, we can’t. And we exit the play upon death.
And being the gracious actors that we are….naturally, we clear the stage for the next generation to enter…… and clean up our mess.
We’re all as wicked as we can be, and that’s the God’s truth.
Enjoy the Show
George Contini, Director