Phoenix Theatre’s The Skin of Our Teeth is both a warning and an inspiration

UVic’s Phoenix Theatre will be hosting the play The Skin of Our Teeth this November, as the second play of their season. The 1942 Pulitzer-winning play, written by Thornton Wilder, is directed by UVic Acting and Directing professor Linda Hardy along with assistant director Master of Fine Arts student Chari Arespacochaga.

The Skin of Our Teeth combines a wide variety of elements, including biblical, philosophical, and mythological references, dinosaurs, and a series of historical events including the Ice Age. The combination of all of those elements may seem daunting, but Arespacochaga says, “The play sounds so heavy handed and abstract. But actually it is the story of a family and how they have survived through the ages; and you see their flaws, you see that they love each other despite those flaws, and there’s a lot of comedy in the show. I mean, how else do we survive all that if we can’t laugh at ourselves. So the description doesn’t serve the show and how it’s executed. It’s a very human, a very simple story. It’s very moving and very funny.”

The play is focused on the story of a somewhat-typical nuclear family lead by George Antrobus, the inventor of the wheel and the alphabet, as they struggle to survive the various disasters they encounter. Arespacochaga says the focus is on the human race and the various crises that the race has survived, including the ones we have created ourselves. “So, you know, it’s a bit of a satire, it’s a bit of laughing at ourselves, while reminding ourselves that these things keep happening, also because of us. So in a way it’s very relevant to us today,” she says.

The play breaks the fourth wall and enters the realm of meta: characters speak to the audience and staged delays interrupt their performances. Despite all the layers, Arespacochaga says, “It flows really well. It also invites the audience to see themselves as part of humanity. So they’re involved in that, they’re involved in the jokes. The play is also being done by a family, which is the acting company that is trying to put on this show. And even within this show, the whole acting company is also surviving that performance by the skin of their teeth, because of so many problems going on backstage. That also adds a lot to the comedy of the show.”

The references to disasters throughout time in the play imply that history has been repeating itself. Arespacochaga says, “The hope there is that humanity will always survive and we’ll always find a way to come out on top and survive it; hopefully learn from things. Although, we still keep repeating certain things that cause the problems.” But, she says, the story is a “reminder that no matter how bad it gets, we have faced far worse and, somehow, we have always pulled through. So in a way, it’s an inspiration for people.”

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