In the Beginning…

Much will no doubt be made of Thornton Wilder’s claim that The Skin of Our Teeth “mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis.”  Indeed, this play about a “typical American family” seems unusually prescient.  Eschewing traditional narrative and chronological structure, The Skin of Our Teeth follows the Antrobuses through three fraught periods in human (and mythological) history.  In Act One, an Ice Age threatens the survival of man.  In Act Two, set on the Atlantic City boardwalk, a flood does the same.  And in Act Three, the end of a war points toward a future framed by humanism and Enlightenment values.  But environmental concerns are not the only parallels to our own time; the Antrobuses must also confront the refugee class that stands, starving and shivering, outside their front door. Continue reading “In the Beginning…”

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Ink by the Carload

I tend to shy away from biographical readings of texts.  But consider: David Mamet’s new play, The Penitent, is about a psychologist, Charles (Chris Bauer), who treats a patient who goes on to murder ten people.  In his manifesto, this patient, frequently referred to as “the Boy,” accuses Charles of homophobia, and a newspaper covering the case piles on by adding that he once wrote an essay that considered the question of homosexuality as “an aberration.”  When he points out that he wrote “an adaptation,” the newspaper issues a half-hearted retraction.  He complains to his lawyer, Richard (Jordan Lage), that they’ve “destroyed his reputation.”  Richard replies, “They’re a newspaper, that’s what they do.”  Charles refuses to testify at the trial or to break his oath of client confidentiality, which threatens both his marriage and his livelihood.  An interview with the defense attorney (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) indicates that Charles, who has recently returned to Judaism, might suffer religious persecution, or, as he calls it, an inquisition.  Incidentally, Charles wears a short, trim, salt-and-pepper beard and round, orange glasses. Continue reading “Ink by the Carload”

I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee

Four older women chat idly in a garden as the afternoon wanes.  Sally (Deborah Findlay) discusses her fear of cats.  Vi (June Watson) is grateful to still receive phone calls form her children.  They reflect on their past lives, which include middle-class jobs and, in one case, mariticide.  A conversation about punchlines in jokes touches on national boundaries and our desire to cast difference on others.  Vi asks, “Did Abel make jokes about Cain being stupid and that’s why he killed him?”  Later, they will all sing The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” elongating the vowel in “Ron” as is done when pronouncing the name.  The lighting is bright enough that I can see the smudges on my glasses. Continue reading “I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee”

Let Us Be Sort of Your Managers with Regards to All Things Existential

At each turn, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody is designed to get its audience members to project themselves onto its characters.  The house lights are up about half the time, preventing us from relaxing into the darkness.  Many of the actors begin the play among us, only joining their co-stars fifteen minutes into the show as a reminder that we too play these parts.  And the first scene, featuring an usher (Jocelyn Bioh) announcing a very strict cell phone policy—”Also, interesting fact: if your phone is on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘moon mode,’ it is actually not off”—erases the typically-sharp distinction between play and real life. Continue reading “Let Us Be Sort of Your Managers with Regards to All Things Existential”