REVIEW: The Skin of Our Teeth (The Artistic Home)

One of theater’s strangest American families comes to life

 

SKIN_Antrobus Family night at home

The Artistic Home presents:

The Skin of Our Teeth

 
by
Thornton Wilder
directed by Jeff Christian
through March 21st (more info)

review by Ian Epstein

Jeff Christian and the clever folks over at The Artistic Home have done their dramaturgy research. In their production of Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth they look back to the circumstances that governed the original production of Thorton Wilder’s species-sized, odd-ball American classic.  From it’s original debut during the height of war-torn 1942, Christian looked to the original Broadway premiere as inspiration.

SKIN_Sabina gets scolded The play begins with the audience facing curtains as black and heavy as the Great Depression, an event still sitting as fresh on everyone’s minds as the Recession might for audience memeber’s today. A short intro video in digital imitation of home movies from the days when they were still on film introduces the audience to the Antrobus family.

Then the curtains part to reveal the Antrobus home in Excelsior, New Jersey.  Sabina (Maria Stephens), the hired help to the Antrobus family from the dawn of time until today, steps on stage wielding a feather-duster like a knife. She works herself into a frenzy about the weather. Sabina, clad in fishnets, heels and a thigh-length black maid’s dress, dusts and monologues and tells us where we are.

New Jersey’s so cold that the dogs are sticking to the sidewalk and there’s a glacier steamrolling Vermont so they have to let in the Woolly Mammoth and the Dinosaur (yes – both appear in the show).

But she starts to repeat herself and the audience is left to wonder if she’s even delivering the lines properly and just when it’s gone to far, Sabina pulls everyone out of the play and it becomes clear that Thorton Wilder is toying with the audience’s trust in one of those play-within-a-play type moments.  Sabina becomes Maria Stephens and she’s angry and doesn’t understand a word of this damn play so she starts ranting about Chicago theater and directors like David Cromer and Anna Shapiro and recent productions of “Our Town

The few updated lines that Sabina delivers as Maria (or is it the other way around?) are wonderful because they freshen up the script’s ability to play with its own fictitiousness.   To borrow from literary critic John Barth, "when the characters in a work of fiction become readers or authors of the fiction they’re in, we’re reminded of the fictitious aspect of our own existence."  And the effect is only exaggerated when the character opposes the role as vehemently as Stephens does.  The quips about Our Town productions and the snippety interactions with Wilder’s characteristic Stage Manager (Eustace Allen) return to the play a much-needed sense of surprise and possibility.

SKIN_Mrs. Antrobus-Are they alive Husband and wife John Mossman and Kathy Scambiaterra (the Associate Artistic Director and Artistic Director of Artistic Home, respectively) portray Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus in the spirit of the original, married Broadway actors Florence Eldridge and Frederic March.  They’re strong performance bolsters the show. And Maria’s over-the-top Sabina goes a long way.   Katherine Swan plays Gladys Antrobus with a fun sense of teenage blasé and and Nick Horst is as tempermental and willful as Henry Antrobus (a.k.a. Cain — who killed the other Antrobus son Abel…).

Joseph Riley‘s set and Aly Greaves’ costumes don’t match the pace or intelligence of the acting and in a show as long as this they become distracting.  Still, come for a good performances of one of American theater’s stranger families.

Rating: ★★½

 

   
   

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New team announced for Theatre Building Chicago’s ‘Musical Theatre Writers Workshop’

Theatre Building Chicago announces it new team of Steinhagen, Holland and Chambers

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Theatre Building Chicago is pleased to announce that Jon Steinhagen and Patrick Holland will join Artistic Director Allan Chambers to “team teach” TBC’s Musical Theatre Writers Workshop. The workshop’s curriculum will continue to focus on the development of the artist in specific fundamentals related to creation of new musicals. The Fall semester focuses on lyrics, music and book and the Winter/Spring semester Practicum takes workshop members through the planning, writing and rehearsal process of a new musical. The introductory workshop sessions will be team-taught by Jon Steinhagen, Patrick Holland and Artistic Director Allan Chambers. This triumvirate of theatre artists brings a wealth of musical theatre writing, directing, and teaching experiences to the workshop. Their years of experience will guide members as they instruct and lead the critique sessions for the introductory first year members.

The 2nd year members and alumni writers will also have the opportunity to work with the three instructors separately or as a team, as they present scenes and songs from full length musicals and one-act children’s musicals. There will usually be two of the three at all session of the 2nd year and alumni workshop. The leader of this group will function as dramaturg/moderator to keep workshop feedback sessions focused and on task.

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Jon Steinhagen is an author, actor, composer/musician, and Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists. His plays and musicals have been produced or workshopped from Manhattan to Seattle; his plays include The Applewood Pistols (an “original Chekhov comedy” based on Chekhov’s notebooks), The Velvet Gentleman, Something More Comfortable, Second Mouse, Dating Walter Dante, Aces, Ponzi on Sunday, Perfectly Natural, a collection of his shorter plays, was produced at the Midtown International Theatre Festival (NYC) in July 2009. Jon wrote the music and lyrics for the musicals The Arresting Dilemma of Mr. K (based on Kafka’s The Trial), The Circus of Dr. Lao, Emma & Company (all developed at TBC and STAGES) and the Jeff and After Dark Award-winning Inferno Beach and People Like Us. Jon is also an award-winning musical director, arranger, and actor who has received four Jeff Awards, six After Dark Awards, and three Jeff nominations for writing, musical direction, or acting. Jon is a graduate of the New Tuners Workshops led by John Sparks. He is an associate member of
The Dramatist’s Guild, a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, and ensemble member of Signal Ensemble Theatre.

Patrick Holland is a professional Music Director, Conductor, Arranger, Orchestrator, Musician, and Educator has had the pleasure of working with Theatre Building Chicago on many projects over the past 10 years on such STAGES projects as Crazy Mary, Bringers, Continental Divide, The Hard Road, Take Me America, Hunger, and Rex. Patrick has also had the pleasure of working with Allan Chambers on Saints & Sinners as part of the workshop mini-musical project in conjunction
with Loyola University of Chicago. Patrick’s Broadway and National Tout credits include The King and I (with Yul Brynner), Hello Dolly (with Carol Channing), Guys and Dolls (with Leslie Uggams), A Chorus Line, Annie, The Pirates of Penzance and La Cage aux Folles to name a handful. He has had the honor of working in New York and Chicago with industry giants Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Herman, Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Tommy Tune. In the Chicagoland area Patrick has worked with The Goodman Theatre, Light Opera Works, Bailiwick, Theatre Building Chicago, and Chicago Cabaret. He has taught music and musical direction at
Northwestern University, Loyola University and Roosevelt University.

Allan Chambers, Artistic Director of TBC, has served in many capacities for Theatre Building Chicago including dramaturg, director, workshop coordinator and actor. Allan oversees theatre company client services and now directs the musical program. He is the past-president of the Illinois Theatre Association,
a founding and former board member of Chicago Alliance for Playwrights, and artistic consultant for Creative Musical Theatre, an honors class dedicated to the development of new music theatre voices at Valparaiso High School. Allan has served as an adjunct instructor at Robert Morris College and at North Park University, and has worked in various capacities with the Goodman Theatre, Music/Theatre Workshop, Our Town Productions, Prologue Theatre, American DreamWorks, Different Drummer Theatre, Bailiwick Repertory, The Western Stage, Cabrillo Stage, Bigfork Playhouse and North Shore Music Theatre. M.F.A., musical theatre, San Diego State University. B.S., theatre acting/directing, University of Idaho.

 


About the Workshop

The first workshop will be the weekend of September 26-27.

Aspiring composers, lyricists and book writers are encouraged to contact TBC’s Artistic Director, Allan Chambers to schedule a personal interview to assess your skill level and to learn if the Musical Writer’s Workshop can benefit you in your quest  to create new musical works.

Allan can be reached at 773-929-7367 ext 229 or at allan@theatrebuildingchicago.org

Theatre Building Chicago has plans to strategically grow the musical program from the ground up. The Musical Theatre Writers Workshop is the first stage in the development of new projects that will then be ready for Monday Night Musicals, STAGES Festivals, Intensive Workshops,  and eventually onto full-scale productions.

The New Musicals for Kids development pipeline is filling up with exciting new projects from TBC’s workshop as well as the NYU Tisch School MFA program.
TBC also produces the Monday Night Musicals series of concert readings of works in progress. The first Monday Night Musical of the 2009/2010 season is The Spark, October 26, 2009. TBC’s New Musicals for Kids series will open with Tantrum on Tracks October 14, 2009.

TBC’s Musical Theatre Writers Workshop produces the STAGES festival of new musicals. STAGES will be held August 20-22, 2010.  Attendees include producers, directors, writers, composers and musical theatre aficionados from all over the country. STAGES is an opportunity for authors and composers to see and hear their work interpreted by a production team and performed for Chicago audiences. It is also an opportunity for producers and directors to assess new musicals
and musical theatre talent.