Hopeful amid despair | Arts & Culture

Hopeful amid despair

Hopeful amid despair

A video still from Rebekah Modrak's ArtPrize video piece.

By Kerianne Tupac

The U-M Department of Theatre & Drama presents the 1942 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder. A riotous tour of humanity and a testament to abiding hope, The Skin of Our Teeth plays 7:30 p.m. February 21, 8 p.m. February 22 & 23, and 2 p.m. February 24 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. The play is directed by guest artist and U-M alumnus Jonathan Berry .

Playwright Wilder was born into a creative family and educated at Yale and Princeton Universities, An accomplished novelist and playwright, he won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. In 1938, Wilder earned a second Pulitzer for his play Our Town, making him one of the few writers to win in the literature and playwriting categories.

Our Town is one of the most performed theatrical works in the U.S. Wilder’s next play, The Skin of Our Teeth, which he completed one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, earned him a third Pulitzer.

PHOTO (Left to Right): Brittany Uomoleale as Sabine, Shannon Eagen as Gladys, Ben Blackman as Mr. Antrobus, Elly Jarvis as Mrs. Antrobus, and Robert O’Brien as Henry. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

Following a decade where democracy seemed threatened by the Great Depression and a second, world war was waging, Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth is a statement about the hopeful possibility of the human race, despite the turbulent and violent times in which he lived.

Breaking theatrical conventions of the time, Wilder’s innovations broke with the highly realistic dramas of the day, and combines absurdity with solemnity. He uses anachronisms as the basis for comedy to show how, faced with cataclysmic disaster, the human race endures and recreates the world anew.

“Wilder wrote this play because he believed in our innate goodness,” said Berry, an award-winning director based in Chicago. He graduated with a BFA in Theatre Performance from U-M in 1997. “He believed in the theater’s ability to inspire, to reach people and to bring us closer together through understanding,” he said. “He celebrates our commonality but also challenges us to do better – to not merely sit back and passively allow the course of history to leave the less fortunate behind while others reap the benefits.”

Appropriating the Greek word of “Anthropos” – or “of man” — Wilder uses the story of a single family, the Antrobuses, to represent the human race throughout time. In each act, the family faces a crisis that tests the faith and resolve of the human spirit. Likewise, the family embraces principles that have seen humanity through tough times: the voice of the people, the bonds of family and friendship, and finally the wisdom of the ages, passed on from generation to generation, reminding us of where we’ve been and where we might go. “One wonders where we get the strength, each day, to carry on,” said Berry.

“These disasters provide the ultimate test for the Antrobus family,” he said. “Will they succumb to these struggles, or will they garner the strength to push forward?”

Joining Berry on the artistic team is Department of Theatre & Drama Associate Professor Vince Mountain (A Midsummer Night’sDream, The Beaux’ Stratagem) as scenic designer and Professor Jessica Hahn (Bat Boy: The Musical) as costume designer. Lighting design is by Department junior Aaron Tacy (Bat Boy: The Musical, Spring Awakening). Sound design is by Henry Reynolds whose last work was heard in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Trumpets and Raspberries. Dawn Rivard (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) designs the wigs and makeup.

Following the Friday, Feb. 22 performance, Berry will moderate a discussion with cast members. Curtain Call Fridays offer an opportunity for audience members to talk with artists about each production. Sponsored by Friends of Theatre & Drama, the discussion is free and open to the public.

Ticket prices for The Skin of Our Teeth are $26 and $20 with students only $10 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted.

Tickets may also be ordered online at tickets.music.umich.edu.

The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, located within the Michigan League at 911 N. University, is accessible to patrons in wheelchairs and features an infrared assisted listening system.