The Skinny on Skin - and Sin

Photo by Ian Flanders

Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thornton Wilder’s perplexing play The Skin of Our Teeth is arguably a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd. It opened on Broadway in 1942 as America entered World War II and Wilder described it as “the history of mankind in a comic strip.” Speaking of strips, the surreal two-acter borrows from Burlesque’s bump-and-grind conventions, and in the production currently on the boards at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, Willow Geer portrays a buxom, ginger-haired seductress gloriously clad much of the time in a cross between a French maid’s outfit and lingerie. Her character is named Sabina (rhymes with…?), and she alternates between being a housekeeper, beauty queen and warrior, often with great comic panache.


In between dusting Sabina prances about the home of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus (portrayed by WGTB stalwarts Mark Lewis and Melora Marshall), who are the archetypal - if atypical- matriarch and patriarch of the all-American family (whatever that is!), which includes son Henry (William Holbrook) and daughter Gladys (Gabrielle Beauvais). In this surreal mishmash Mr. Antrobus invents the wheel, becomes His Excellency at Excelsior, New Jersey, the fictitious township where the family lives, dinosaurs and woolly mammoths sashay about (creatures courtesy of Puppet Time), and there’s lots of strange going-ons.


Over time the Antrobuses must contend with problems that are strikingly timely, including climate change, refugees and war. That age-old hobgoblin of infidelity, too, rears its ugly head, as a conflicted Mr. Antrobus must choose between the sexually arousing Sabina or his wife and the mother of his children in this Pulitzer Prize winning play.


Before I made my way out to the splendid Topanga Canyon amphitheater I had no idea what to expect from the playwright of the spectral, somber Our Town, that popular stage standby for high school theater departments across the USA. But I was pleasantly surprised by its absurdist vibe that, as America joined the global fight against fascism, sought to reassure audiences that humanity shall prevail and survive, no matter what. (It’s still a reassuring and needed message today! O Thornton, wherefore art thou?) Another WGTB veteran, Earnestine Phillips, joins in the merriment pondering mankind’s fate rather appropriately as a fortune teller.


Well-directed (as usual) by WGTB Artistic Director Ellen Geer, the skinny on Skin is that it’s actually heaps of fun, as well as quite thought-provoking, and I really enjoyed it. This play is for more adventurous theatergoers, but not for children because it does contain some risqué subject matter. But then again, so does life!


The Skin of Our Teeth is being performed in repertory through Sept. 29 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum: 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, California, 90290. For repertory schedule and other information call: (310)455-3723 or see:


The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer/historian Ed Rampell is available at: . Rampell is co-presenting the 400TH Anniversary Anti-Slavery Cinema Commemoration 12:00 - 10:00 p.m., August 25 at the L.A. Workers Center.