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Surreal Comedy Scores at Bard

Theater review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Apr 8th, 2017

Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) was the first American avant-gard play to make it to Broadway and he was even rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize. In this student production at Bard College, Wilder’s surreal satire on the follies of American cultural sensibility leverages some witty updating. For example: the lightning Harry Potter scar on Henry-Cain’s forehead (Biblical Cain’s outcast tattoo), the stasis of race relations, and many allusive and amusing current political currents, although there are no flashing tomahawk missiles to wow the audience, yet there is a time-period portrait of Atlantic City in its fabled heyday that recalls the privileged childhood of our current Emperor without clothes who once wanted to make that city great again.    

Despite Amanda Houser’s adroit mugging and baggy clothes, her performance as Mr. Antrobus remains slightly bland, although she does present a creditable performance as a man, while imitating the obtuse narcissism of our current glorious president. JaQuan Beachem as downtrodden maid Sabina provides an hilarious hoot-and-half, strutting in high heels, casting his voice melodramatically hither and thither as he swaggers with parodic intensity. If it were not for Beachem, Maya Sokolow as Mrs. Antrobus would have skewed the necessary balance of these competing rivals in the production. Sokolow may have a future beyond Bard as an actress. Sophia Landa as daughter Gladys has a difficult yet minor role played to perfection in body language, repartee, and her monolog satire on poor poet Longfellow (but his early poetry was really good before he descended into self-parody and cliché, yet Wilder could never forgive Longfellow for his early senility). Gideon Berger as brother Henry convincingly channels unrequited anger as the heavy without ever growing up.

This is a superb production with enough vibrant humor to seduce one away from Broadway. It recaptures the zany humor so redolent of theater in the early 1970s. My one objection is that like the 1968 revival of this play, it dispenses with the play-within-play scene. In this three-act play, the second and the third acts are combined as a second act with the third act abbreviated. While the first two acts blaze with raucous satire on family life, advertising, and technical inventions, the moralistic explanation in the third act appears dated today—there’s more lecture in the script than drama in third act which then appears anti-climactic, yet that is no excuse for missing the authentic fireworks of the first two acts.

Jordan Fein’s humorous directorial imprint endows the production with laughter-memories for a month or two. Terese Walden’s sets and costumes ably captures angst, ridiculousness, and horror. Stage manager Marci Skolnick had to juggle many balls in the air adeptly.

The theme that while technology may change human nature does not is as relevant today as when the play first appeared. This production at Bard’s LUMA Theater runs only through April 9. Tickets are only $15. You can catch this witty shooting star by calling the box office at 845-758-7900.