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May 11, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 19
 
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Intiman Theatre fails to reinvent Skin of Our Teeth
Intiman Theatre fails to reinvent Skin of Our Teeth
by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN Arts & Entertainment Writer

Skin of Our Teeth Through June 2nd
Intiman Theatre


The Skin of Our Teeth won playwright, Thornton Wilder, the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 and, not having been there myself, I'm assuming that it probably addressed the issues of that era in a way that was timely and new. The material seems very dated now and made this three act play feel laborious and never ending. There are themes running through it that are contemporary. There is the eerily prophetic theme of living in an ice age in act one, which brings the possible current horrors of global warming to mind as the characters are huddling, freezing, in front of a fire in the middle of August; the facing of an impending flood in Atlantic City, in act two, and, in act three, the shell shock, devastation and difficult recovery caused by war. However, the dialogue and absurdist nature of the play seem to work against it now. The dialogue sounds stilted, preachy and antiquated and the absurd elements distract and fragment the flow, aiding in dissipating the energetic momentum. Some of the absurdist elements are delightful, especially the very affectionate (and realistic) Wooly Mammoth, who likes to cuddle up with the mother, Mrs. Antrobus, by the fire. What a fantasy. Wouldn't we all like to interact with a cuddly Wooly Mammoth? The baby dinosaur is also very cute and endearing but doesn't serve much of a purpose beyond that.

The thing that I liked the most about this play is director, Bartlett Sher's decision to cast deaf actor, Howie Seago, in the leading role of Mr. Antrobus. Antrobus is a middle class, suburban New Jersey "everyman". Seago is a dynamic actor and it was beautiful to watch him playing his role using expressive American Sign Language, while other actors, primarily Laurence Ballard, seamlessly and dramatically vocalized his words. This worked incredibly well and added a lot to the experience of watching and absorbing the play.

The set (by Michael Yeargan) is innovative and versatile; a platform suspended about six feet in the air, which serves as the Antrobus' living room in act one, moves forward in act two to become a speaking platform and tilts backwards, on end, in act three to portray the destruction of the Antrobus' house by war. The lighting (by Marcus Doshi) is dramatic and works harmoniously with the set. The costumes (by Catherine Zuber) are creative.

The Antrobus' maid, Sabina, (Kristin Flanders), threads the acts together, seeming to be one of the more realistic and solid characters amidst chaos and absurdity. Flanders plays it well, with a thick New Jersey accent. The archetypal mother figure, Mrs. Antrobus, is played in earnest by Annie Scurria. The capable cast features fine Seattle veteran actors, Clayton Corzatte and Laurence Ballard. I thought the performances and direction were good. Once again, I felt that the play itself seemed stuck back in 1942 and it grew tedious. The post war, third act seemed to work the best. It was the one act that was simpler, more universal and more devoid of absurdist distractions.

The director thought that it was too warm in the theater and decided to blast the air-conditioning at the audience, which made the environment very uncomfortable for many of us, for three hours. Audience members near me were huddling with their coats over them like blankets. (Perhaps Sher felt it necessary for us to have the experience of feeling like we were actually living in an ice age). The theater's obliviousness about this uncomfortable, yet easily remedied condition was even harder to comprehend, considering that this evening's performance was the press opening and every reviewer in town would be there and I would think that they would especially be on their toes. I suggest that in the future that the Intiman Theatre have a little more concern and thoughtfulness for the comfort and concerns of their audience members. After all, without the audience, there is no reason to put on a play.

An additional sign-interpreted performance of The Skin of Our Teeth has been added by popular demand on May 22nd. There will be a sign-interpreted post-play discussion in the lobby and interpreters will offer introductions to key signs used during the play, beginning thirty minutes prior to curtain, in the Intiman lobby.

For more information about Intiman Theatre and upcoming presentations visit www.intiman.org.

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