By Clint Kelly|
Who over forty can ever forget the old black-and-white spoofs like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"? This winter, a Seattle Pacific University Homecoming
audience of all ages will be treated to a Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy that might have been titled "The Three Stooges Meet Aristotle."
How else to explain the jugglers? A pet dinosaur? Esmarelda, the fortune-teller? The invoking of great philosophers and divine scripture? It's vaudeville meets Genesis as the Theatre Department presents Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth January 28-30 and February 4-6.
"It's a dynamite play and was quite bold for its day," says director James Chapman of the production that opened on Broadway in 1942 and starred Tallulah Bankhead.
"It defies convention," notes Chapman, "yet ultimately asks the fundamental questions. What is the purpose of life? How do I fit in? What is man's relationship with God? It illustrates that the ultimate challenge of the human being is the struggle with self. That is a powerful and useful thing to say to freshmen."
For that reason, students in the Winter Quarter freshman Common Curriculum course "Character and Community" will be required to read the script and attend a performance of The Skin of Our Teeth. It was chosen to be part of the course both for its noble testimony to the indestructibility of the human spirit -- and its accessibility to the broadest possible audience.
George Scranton, associate professor of theatre, recommended that The Skin of Our Teeth be included in the "SPU Canon." He believes comedy is an effective vehicle for conveying biblical truth. "The comic vision contains the potential for a theology of hope. In The Skin of Our Teeth, Wilder takes us to the brink of disaster but affirms with Job (from whence the title comes) that we will narrowly escape destruction. It is a comedy of grace."
Rather than a typically chronological story with a beginning, a middle and a climax, the play is accomplished through a series of major world events. And like Wilder's other Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, it is done with minimal sets and staging.
The Skin of Our Teeth features George Antrobus of Excelsior, New Jersey, his wife and two children, and their maid Sabina. Together they survive a series of severe trials from the Ice Age and The Flood to locusts and the advent of the double feature. That they, like all humanity, escape repeated catastrophe "by the skin of their teeth" is a tribute to mankind's resilience and the providence of God. When it debuted, the play provided a ray of hope for a world on the brink of war.
Senior Holly Venable says the production that now consumes most of her waking hours is a great study in universality. "It gets away from the grand scheme of humanity and shows us instead how world events affect one common family. It says a lot about how the world works, about the cycle of life."
Venable is Sabina and in the course of the play must go from a fluttery domestic to a determined seductress - and back again. "It's a challenge to sustain just one character all the way through a full-length production," she says.
Wilder is a logical choice for a large and diverse Homecoming audience because of his Christian convictions. Princeton and Yale-educated, the American playwright was a born-again believer in the tradition of Wesley and solidly trusted in a loving and just God who ordered the universe. He firmly believed that it was mankind's duty to find unity with that God.
Wilder believed that life is good; humanity has value; and the small moments of life contain great significance. Sometimes it requires a humorous allegory, perhaps even a pet dinosaur named Frederick, to bring it all into sharper focus.