By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In staging his revival of the play at Evidence Room, Stefan Novinski distinguishes himself, yet again, as a core member of topflight local stage directors. That Novinski’s The Skin of Our Teethappears so postmodern is more a testament to Wilder’s theatrical innovations than to the director’s. Novinski’s device of having maid Sabina (Ames Ingham, as a petulant and flirtatious imp) open the play in front of the curtain holding a dismembered Barbie doll is completely in line with Wilder’s oft-stated desire to shatter the fourth wall and to make the audience cognizant of the theater’s tricks — even before Bertolt Brecht started hammering at the same conceit. Sabina breaks character railing against her awful lines and the terrible play she’s trapped in. Yet every word she says, or some variation thereof, is in the text, and Novinski’s staging is almost entirely faithful to it (though he excised Hebrew and Greek lines by refugees and an entire racial dimension).
Donna Marquet’s set includes a bare platform stage with splashes of mismatching furniture, a couple of desks in the exposed backstage, where actors sit at microphones providing sound effects and voice-overs. A pivotal seduction scene of George by a beauty contestant (Ingham again) is entirely voiced by Marks. Juggling the raw emotion of infidelity with Marks’ slightly mocking tone works in tandem with, but never consumes, the passion. And it’s entirely in the service of Wilder’s mix of vaudeville, cabaret and lugubrious poignancy.
Jason Adams attacks the role of George like a manic young Einstein, eyes bugging with a fever that rises and falls between frustration and hope. As George’s wife, Alicia Adams redefines the phrase “spine of steel,” a model of purse-lipped rectitude and dignity fraying. Kane does her androgynous daughter, Gladys, as a squeaky-voiced little bull in a china shop, pained that everyone is so angry and frustrated. But the character who most represents our country in these reactionary times is her brother, Henry, who slew his older sibling with a slingshot. In a performance of riveting subtlety, Marks mutes Henry’s fratricidal fury into a kind of pathology in which enemies are everywhere and violence begins at home.
Wilder paved the way for a school of American metaphysical theater that, after the ’60s, continued to thrive in Europe but as a driving artistic force became suppressed on these shores by comparatively realistic plays about society and psychology — a movement propelled by the likes of Clifford Odets and Arthur Miller. The difference between the European and the American schools is the difference between seeing human behavior as a function of fate and as a function of morality. In the European school, individual choice is an illusion; in the American school, it’s an imperative.
The question raised by The Skin of Our Teeth is whether or not we have, or ever had, any choice at all. The last two years of American policy have been bringing that question to the fore; the next two years may determine the answer.
THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH | By THORNTON WILDER | At EVIDENCE ROOM, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Westlake | Through July 13