“There’s kind of an old-timeyness that is associated with him, but when I read The Skin of Our Teeth, I was like, ‘This. Play. Is. Crazy. This. Play. Is. In-sane,’” says director Lileana Blain-Cruz of Thornton Wilder’s 1942 Pulitzer-winning play. “Everybody associates him with Our Town and small towns, but Wilder was doing something that was so radical and weird like we’d see in experimental theatre downtown in those basement garages. He had such an influence on absurdism and strangeness, so when I was rereading The Skin of Our Teeth I was like ‘This is right up my alley.’”
Blain-Cruz makes her Broadway directorial debut with the revival of The Skin of Our Teeth, now playing at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, but the director has already made a name for herself in New York’s smaller spaces that tend to take more experimental risks, helming productions like María Irene Fornés’s Fefu and Her Friends at Theater for a New Audience, Lucas Hnath’s Red Speedo at New York Theater Workshop, and Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ War, both at LCT3.
Unlike many productions this season that are returning or being rescheduled after the pandemic hiatus, this play was specifically chosen “while we were in the throes of chaos” for this moment of reentry. “We were thinking of what does it mean to make theatre, why are we doing theatre, and how do we choose a show that is in relationship to the moment that we’re living in?” explains Blain-Cruz.
The play centers on the Antrobus family—a Black American family in Blain-Cruz’s staging—who face catastrophic disaster in the form of an impending ice age in the first act, then the threat of deluge in the second act, then a war-torn world in the final act.
“We’ve been going through a lot together globally and so to have a chance to work on something that essentially was trying to grapple with what it means to be alive in the world, like existence itself, is what made The Skin of Our Teeth feel like the right choice.”
“After having seen history repeat itself over and over again, what does it mean to continue forward? How do you refind the hope to start again after you’ve seen the world betray you again and again and again. And that feels particularly potent to me with this Black American family in a world that has repeatedly betrayed them over and over and over again, and yet they have the fortitude and courageousness and collective communal need to restart again. It’s not just an individual starting again, it’s the necessary presence of everyone together choosing to say yes to life and moving forward.”
In a world beginning to reemerge from a still lingering pandemic, facing new war atrocities every day, The Skin of Our Teeth could not possibly answer all our questions about tragedy and violence, but it does provide a little solace. “It reminds us of that collective longing for truth and understanding. It’s an affirmation of the choice to continue to live…It’s a continual reminder of the way in which the world has experienced catastrophe and utter disaster and apocalypse again and again and again, and I think that makes us feel less lonely.”
The Skin of Our Teeth opened April 25 Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater and runs through May 29.