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Players put on ‘Skin of our Teeth’

  • A woolly mammoth prop part of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” production at the Peterborough Players this summer. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • Cast members of the Peterborough Players’ “The Skin of Our Teeth” – Dee Nelson, Rebecca Brinkley and Jack Koenig. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • Jack Koenig, Tess Borsecnik, K. Cody Hunt and Dee Nelson are the Antrobus family in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth”  at the Peterborough Players. Courtesy Photo

  • Ray Coté, Jack Koenig and Dee Nelson in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth”  at the Peterborough Players. Courtesy Photo



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, July 10, 2018 10:55AM

Don’t let the pet dinosaur or woolly mammoth distract you, “The Skin of Our Teeth” is a play about the endurance of humanity through the worst of times – an ice age, flood, war – and despite being written nearly 80 years ago the play remains as timely as ever.

The Peterborough Players’ production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning “The Skin of Our Teeth” opened Wednesday.

With the play’s plot points featuring refugees, climate change disasters and obnoxious politicians it’s hard to believe the play wasn’t written in 2018

Wilder began writing the play while in residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough in 1940, and continued to write it while traveling the world. By the time the play was completed in 1942 World War II was in full swing, with the U. S. having joined after Pearl Harbor was bombed in Dec. 1941. According to his letters, Wilder set out to write a comic strip about the end of the world and ended up touching on a universal and constantly relevant theme of humanity’s struggle to survive one challenge to the next. Rinse and repeat.

Director Gus Kaikkonen keeps a 1940s aesthetic for the sets and costumes, but “The Skin of Our Teeth” could take place at any time. Kaikkonen said he has never directed “The Skin of Our Teeth” before, but found it to be shockingly relevant.

“I’m afraid of getting accused of re-writing this play, because it is so specific, but we didn’t do that,” Kaikkonen said.

Both an absurd comedy and a drama, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” presents us with man and wife, Adam and Eve, an everyman and everywoman: George and Maggie Antrobus, played by Jack Koenig and Dee Nelson.

The Antrobus’ call Excelsior, New Jersey, home. To complete the family – as Mrs. Antrobus says, “We always have two children,” – is daughter Gladys (Tess Borsecnik) and son Henry (K. Cody Hunt). George and Maggie try as they might to keep Gladys an ever-virgin and Henry non-violent. (He has a penchant for throwing stones at people, causing fatal injuries, and doesn’t want to be known by his original name, Cain.)

In her Players’ debut, Rebecca Brinkley carries us through the play as Sabina, the family’s maid and wannabe homewrecker. When she’s not clinging to the family to protect her from the latest world disaster she is attempting to steal Mr. Antrobus away from Mrs. Antrobus.

However, Sabina’s role goes beyond that of the seductress through the ages. Just as George and Maggie are everyman and everywoman, Sabina represents the common man, the everyperson of the world and their struggles. She also acts as narrator and often breaks character to talk directly to the audience about how much she hates the play.

A lot depends on Brinkley and she delivers, moving deftly from comic relief to seductress to heart-breaking moments.

In “The Skin of Our Teeth” the Antrobus’ hold tight to the family structure and each one’s role in the family as a means of surviving the catastrophes they face. However, the Antrobus’ also know there is more to saving the world then just saving themselves. When faced with a flood about to destroy the world, the family takes on the job of saving all the animals in a boat, in a nod to the story of Noah’s Ark. And after a devastating war, Mr. Antrobus returns home, and after reuniting with his family, asks about his books and seeks to protect his library of great works.

The Antrobus’ are constantly trying to save different aspects of the world so they can rebuild a new world with them.

As Mr. Antrobus, one of Koenig’s most powerful moments in the play comes when he convinces a scared Mrs. Antrobus to allow refugees fleeing a giant glacier into the house by telling her their chances of survival go up if they let the refugees in. She fiercely wants to protect and provide for her children first and ensure their survival, but is swayed by her husband’s argument that banding together with the refugees increases their chances of survival, even if it’s just to keep up each other’s morale with another round on Jingle Bells on a freezing day in August. He also argues the refugees – who represent different aspects of society from the law, the academics and the arts – will become even more vital if the family somehow survives the ice age. Because ultimately, without society, how would the family survive.

The Antrobus’ somehow manage to keep going, a struggle that is also mirrored by the constant breaking down of the set and the actors. But just like in real life, when the set falls apart or an actor stops the entire play, they have to pick it up again and keep going.

The Peterborough Players have created bright and inventive sets that the cast, including Second Company Players and local actors, bring to life.

“The Skin of Our Teeth” goes to hilarious moments to very dark ones. But you will leave having a good laugh – don’t miss Players’ Kraig Swartz; He is a scream as a gypsy fortune teller – and a sense of well-being that even if it feels like the end of the world, that’s normal.

“The Skin of Our Teeth” runs through July 15. Tickets are $42 and can be purchased online at www.peterboroughplayers.org or by calling the box office at 924-7585.

Meghan Pierce is Digital Editor at the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. She can be reached at mpierce@ledgertranscript.com. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @monadnockbeat.