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Theatricum celebrates human indestructibility with
Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winner ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’
TOPANGA, Calif (June 18, 2019) –– Place: the Atlantic City Boardwalk in Excelsior, New Jersey. Time: Immemorial. The Skin of Our Teeth, the Pulitzer Prize-winning tribute to the indestructibility of the human race by Thornton Wilder, opens on the beautiful outdoor stage at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum on Saturday, July 13, where performances continue through Sept. 29.
The Skin of Our Teeth is a satirical testimonial to the dogged determination of human beings to hang in there against all odds. Wilder masterfully looks ahead to the future of humanity, while at the same time compounding its entire history. A seemingly average American family — Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus (Mark Lewis and Melora Marshall), their son and daughter (William Holbrook and Gabrielle Beauvais) and the maid, Sabina (Willow Geer) — must learn to navigate the Ice Age, Biblical times, the invention of the wheel, ancient Greece, the Great War, even a beauty pageant in Atlantic City. Their experiences represent the range of human potential — for genius, love, envy, betrayal, destruction and, most importantly, survival. As they continue to live and rebuild in the face of adversity, they are proof, as Mr. Antrobus says, that “living is struggle.”
“This play is about us, today,” notes director Ellen Geer. “The Antrobuses are refugees of the Ice Age (climate change), of Noah’s Flood (record-breaking, weather-related calamities and fires), and of war (which never seems to cease). Wilder said of his play, ‘It is most potent in times of crisis.’ Theatricum is mounting it for the third time — so I guess we are at another time of crisis, and plan to survive and land on our feet, just like the Antrobus family.”
The Theatricum cast also features company members Jonathan Blandino as the announcer and Earnestine Phillips as the fortune teller. The ensemble includes Dylan Booth, John Brahan, Matthew Domenico, Colin Guthrie, Margaret Kelly, Edison Lobos, Shane McDermott, Matthew Pardue, Dante Ryan, Gina Shansey, Sky Wahl, Isaac Wilkins and Woan Ni Wooi. Costume design is by Holly Hawk, lighting design is by Zach Moore, sound design is by Grant Escandón, the prop masters are Danté Carr and Sydney Russell, and creature creation is by Puppet Time. Kim Cameron is the production stage manager.
Written in 1942, largely in response to U.S. involvement in WWII, Wilder’s play was meant partly to assuage our fears of worldwide destruction brought on by war. It opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre and was an immediate smash hit, winning the 1943 Pulitzer Prize (Wilder’s third, after The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town). Directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Fredric March, Florence Eldridge, Tallulah Bankhead and Montgomery Clift. Just as he did several years earlier with Our Town, Wilder again stretched the bounds of theatrical convention. Elia Kazan wrote in his autobiography A Life, “Many of the audience were mystified… but [that] reaction became part of the talk that made the play immediately famous.” Thornton Wilder liked to tell the story about how cab drivers said they prospered during the original Broadway run of The Skin of Our Teeth because of all the baffled theatergoers fleeing at intermission. Between its nebulous chronology, simultaneous activity in multiple places, and mix of narration, dialogue and asides, The Skin of Our Teeth has always been a challenge.
Novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder was born in Madison, Wisconsin on April 17, 1897. His father, Amos, was an editor and journalist and his mother Isabella was a poet. The family lived in Madison until 1906 when they moved to Hong Kong when Wilder’s father was appointed American consul general. Wilder attended Oberlin College and Yale University and received his master’s degree from Princeton in 1926. During the 1920s, to support himself, Wilder taught French and English at various schools and wrote scripts for silent films. He wrote his first novel, The Cabela, in 1926. His second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), won the Pulitzer Prize. His play, Our Town (1938), a look at small-town American life, brought Wilder the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and the The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The Matchmaker (1954), one of Wilder’s more successful works, evolved into the musical comedy Hello, Dolly. Other plays include Angel That Troubled the Waters and other Plays (1928); The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays in One Act (1931); Merchant of Yonkers (1939); Childhood (1960); and Infancy (1960). His other novels include Woman of Andros (1930); Heaven’s My Destination (1935); The Ides of March (1948); The Eighth Day (1967), for which Wilder was awarded the 1968 National Book Award; Theophilus North (1973); and The Alcestiad, or A Life In The Sun (1977).
The Skin of Our Teeth will perform in repertory on Theatricum’s main stage alongside four other productions: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Orson Welles’ Moby Dick–Rehearsed, adapted from the novel by Herman Melville; and a free adaptation, by Ellen Geer, of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. All five productions continue through Sept. 29. A sixth production is set to open on the smaller stage in the theater’s intimate S. Mark Taper Pavilion on Aug. 17: The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn — another Pulitzer Prize winner — will star long-time Theatricum company members and real life husband-and-wife team Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James in a co-production with the Sierra Madre Playhouse.
Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum, using a company of actors, will perform each of the plays in repertory, making it possible to see all six plays in a single summer weekend.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.” In 2017, Theatricum was named “one of the best outdoor theaters around the world” by the Daily Beast.
Theatricum’s beginnings can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening’s performance. Theatricum’s main stage amphitheater sports a new and improved sun shade for increased audience comfort, installed with support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Ralph M. Parson’s Foundation. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s highest honor.
The amphitheater is terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.
The Skin of Our Teeth opens on Saturday, July 13 at 8 p.m. and continues through Sept. 29. Tickets range from $10 – $42; children 4 and under are free. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310–455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum and instagram: @theatricum_botanicum.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘The Skin of Our Teeth’
The Skin of Our Teeth — The story of humankind told through the lives of the Antrobus family. Set in 20th century New Jersey and the Ice Age, Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a whirlwind of modernity and antiquity. As relevant today as its original production in 1942, this inspiring piece of Americana uses humor, history, and mythology to highlight humanity’s drive to carry on.
• Written by Thornton Wilder
• Directed by Ellen Geer
• Starring Gabrielle Beauvais, Jonathan Blandino, Willow Geer, William Holbrook, Mark Lewis, Melora Marshall, Earnestine Phillips
• Ensemble: Dylan Booth, John Brahan, Matthew Domenico, Colin Guthrie, Margaret Kelly, Edison Lobos, Shane McDermott, Matthew Pardue, Dante Ryan, Gina Shansey, Sky Wahl, Isaac Wilkins, Woan Ni Wooi
• Presented by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Performances: July 13 – Sept. 29:
• Saturday, July 13 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, July 20 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, July 28 at 4 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m.*
• Sunday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m.
• Friday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m.**
• Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m.
*Prologue (pre-show discussion):Saturday, Aug. 3 from 7 p.m.–7:30 p.m. (included in ticket price)
**Pay-What-You-Will performance on Friday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
• Adults: $42 (lower tier); $26 (upper tier)
• Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15
• Children (5-15): $10
• Children 4 and under: Free
• Friday night performance: Pay-What-You-Will
The outdoor amphitheaters at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum are terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.