Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 23, 2019

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, The Skin of Our Teeth

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through August 3, 2019
by Shera Cohen

It’s a common phrase, “the skin of our teeth.” There are probably numerous similar definitions like, “in the nick of time.” What this title tells the audience about the play is slim. In contrast, this is a big play: sets, subject matter, cast, and even volume.

Thornton Wilder picked up the Pulitzer Prize for “Skin of Our Teeth” in 1943. The year is significant, as WWII was in progress and the role of the U.S. began in 1941. The play is whitewashed as soberly funny; at the same time thought provoking on colossal issues of mankind.

Your average American family of four, who happen to live in New Jersey, are the focal point. This quartet is not happy, always bemoaning their plight. While not a spoiler, the Antrobus family somehow manages to survive despite themselves.

Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus are a team, married for 5,000 years. Actors Danny Johnson and Harriet Harris make a smart team as well. If we don’t recognize Harris (from TV’s “Frasier”) her voice is a unique give-away that epitomizes disaster and humor simultaneously. Their maid Sabina, portrayed by Ariana Venturi, steals the show. Never upstaging, Venturi is outstanding; coquettish at one point and an all-knowing seer at another. Her role is flighty, then somber, and the actress carries off the instant changes in demeanor in a flash.

Everything in this play is big; bigger than real life. After all, the set must accommodate the size of a prehistoric woolly mammoth, Noah’s ark, the Ice Age, the Depression, and WWII.

It’s up to Mr. Antrobus to save the human race. A man with the skills to invent the alphabet and the wheel, why not fix everything else while he’s at it; obviously a black comedy.

Plays oftentimes use the text and/or characters as metaphors. In this case, the entire play is a series of metaphors. Theatergoers must put in a lot of work to “get it.” The use of so many brain cells to fully comprehend “Skin of Our Teeth” is asking a great deal of its audience, especially on a very hot night in the Berkshires. However, summer theatre need not be funny, romantic, or a musical.