Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Skin of Our Teeth

The Skin of Our Teeth. Thornton Wilder. 1942. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Announcer: The management takes pleasure in bringing to you--The News Events of the World:

Premise/plot: The Skin of Our Teeth is an always absurd, sometimes amusing, frequently head-scratching play that won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1943. It stars Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, a couple who've been married for 5,000+ years, their two children Henry and Gladys, and their 'maid' Sabina. Each of the three acts has its own peculiar setting. The acts do not seem--to me, at least--to be connected to one another to tell a cohesive story. Each act has its own beginning, middle, and end. So the whole play is like three little stories sharing some of the same characters, some of the same themes. The 'theme' is surviving 'by the skin of your teeth.' The running gag, of sorts, is that this couple is "Adam" and "Eve" and Henry is "Cain."

The first act is 'the end of the world' by ice. The second act is 'the end of the world' by flood. The third act is 'end of the world' by war.

My thoughts: What a strange, strange play! Sabina, the "maid," is the scene stealer. In each of the three acts, she breaks character throughout and speaks directly to the audience. She reminds everyone THIS IS A PLAY. THIS IS A PLAY THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. I'M A PART OF THE PLAY. BUT I'M A REAL PERSON TOO. In the second act, for example, Sabina breaks character to "protect" the audience and "prevent" giving offense. The lines she's skipping are the ones her character says to steal Mr. Antrobus and wreck his "happy" family. Her excuse for breaking character is this: there might be people in the audience who don't need to be reminded of the reality of broken homes. Husbands cheat. Wives cheat. Spouses leave each other. Couples divorce. Homes are broken. People don't go to the theatre to see this kind of stuff. They come to be entertained. They come to laugh.

Did I like this one? Well. Not really "like." It was interesting. More astounding to me than anything is that it's a prize-winning drama. Which in a way makes sense. I think this is a case of The Emperor's New Clothes. You either see the brilliance, want others to think you see what they see, or call others out and say WHY is this wonderful?

"Henry Antrobus is a real, clean-cut American boy. He'll graduate from High School one of these days, if they make the alphabet any easier. Henry, when he has a stone in his hand, has a perfect aim; he can hit anything from a bird to an older brother--Oh! I didn't mean to say that!--but it certainly was an unfortunate accident, and it was very hard getting the police out of the house. Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus' daughter is named Gladys. She'll make some good man a good wife someday, if he'll just come down off the movie screen and ask her." (Sabina, monologue)
"How can you make a world for people to live in, unless you've first put order in yourself?" (Antrobus to Henry)
"How will a man choose the ruler that shall rule over him? Will he not choose a man who has first established order in himself, knowing that any decision that has its spring from anger or pride or vanity can be multiplied a thousand fold in its effects upon the citizens? (Hester) 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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