“THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH,” The Grand Theatre, 1575 S. State, through March 28 (801-957-3322 or tickets.slcc.edu)
In a playful aside to the audience, the Antrobus family's maid, Sabina, advises, “Don’t take this play serious.”
Yet for “The Skin of Our Teeth,” playwright Thornton Wilder was honored with his third Pulitzer Prize.
The Grand Theatre continues its American Classic Series with an excellent staging of a play that uses farce, burlesque and satire to dramatize the struggle of humankind to survive.
Mark Fossen shows his facile knack for directing what could be a musty theater history lesson into shockingly vibrant, must-see entertainment. His affection for the material is evident, and the directing style is very right for this play. The tempo is breakneck, but each plot point is clearly and appropriately presented. Wilder’s optimism for the human race is clear, along with humanity's chances for a bright and successful future.
With “antrobus” being Greek for human or person, the family of four — Mr. George and Mrs. Maggie Antrobus (Jason Tatom and Kristin Housley) and their children, Henry (Michael T. Brown) and Gladys (Marcella Pereda) — show their tenacity and resilience throughout the play’s three acts, each structured around a historic catastrophe: the Ice Age, the Flood and modern war.
The actors must simultaneously portray middle-class 1942 New Jersey family members and allegorical stand-ins for all of humankind. And they must believably have a dinosaur and a mammoth as household pets, while also breaking character to comment on the script.
The performances are robust as each walks the fine line between caricature and naturalistic comedy. Tatom and Housley are notably steadfast and truthful in their portrayals. Brown also skillfully plays murderous son Henry (who was once named Cain), and Pereda is convincing as the spoiled daughter Gladys. They begin the story as children and convincingly bridge the characters into adulthood as the play continues.
There is also a great assembly of ensemble actors taking on smaller yet pivotal roles, including Bailey Walker as Dinosaur and Joshua Wood as Mammoth in Act 1 and Alyssa Franks as the all-too-knowing Fortune Teller in Act 2. There’s seldom a false note in the large cast.
Sarah Danielle Young is simply superb as Sabina, our chief narrator. She declares, “I hate this play, and I don't understand a word of it.” But audiences can be assured that she savors portraying this whimsical character and shows great humor in the role.
Content advisory: Extramarital flirtation