‘The Skin of Our Teeth’ reviews: Revival of Thornton Wilder play is ‘profound’ and ‘exuberant’ but ‘dated’

Eighty years after Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Skin of Our Teeth” debuted on Broadway, the sprawling work has returned to the New York stage in a lavish production at Lincoln Center. Unspooling over three distinct periods of history in its three acts, “Teeth” blends the modern with the Paleolithic as the Anthrobus family and their maid Sabina withstand environmental and human devastation as the great world spins.

In this production, which opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on April 25, the Anthrobus family and the majority of the cast are portrayed by Black actors. Lileana Blain-Cruz directs the large ensemble cast, which includes James Vincent Meredith and Roslyn Ruff as Mr. and Mrs. Anthrobus, Gabby Beans as their maid Sabina, and Priscilla Lopez as the fortune teller in the second act. This production also features contributions and some revisions by Pulitzer-finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

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This massive remounting of the Wilder classic received varying responses from critics. In a Critic’s Pick review, Alexis Soloski (New York Times) says this “maximalist” revival features a “profound suspicion of human endeavor,” complete with “dazzling, playful puppetry.” She applauds Blain-Cruz’s “gorgeous, restive direction” and her “profound interest in visual pleasure and delight.” Soloski also gives credit to Adam Rigg for the “exuberant design” and Yi Zhao for the “radiant lighting,” with raves for the actors including the “ferocious” Gabby Beans and her “comic gifts,” and the “eternally excellent” Roslyn Ruff.

In a three-of-five star review, Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) says the production is “eye-popping,” but notes how the play “often seems dated, even when the material is startlingly applicable to our particular moment in time.” Even so, he compliments Blain-Cruz’s “vividly imaginative staging” and the “superb” Ruff. Less positive, Ayanna Prescod (Variety) writes that the show is “courageously but unevenly directed,” and though Prescod didn’t connect with the production overall, she still liked Beans’ “high-brow comic flair and ample sass” and Rigg’s “opulent dreamscape set.”

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With these reviews, “The Skin of Our Teeth” could be a spoiler at the Tony Awards in the Best Revival category. Although it trails in our current combined odds in seventh place, this is a notoriously tricky show and a staggeringly hard one to stage, so the Tony nominators may want to acknowledge the effort – which many critics found successful – with a nomination for the top honor.

“Teeth” also has an outside chance of surprising with a Best Director bid for Blain-Cruz. Even though she currently trails in that race in ninth place with a whopping 21 show contending, Blain-Cruz has had an incredibly impressive career Off-Broadway and brought her unique vision to this massive endeavor, her first on Broadway as lead director.

The nominations the show seems very likely to earn include one in Best Actress for Gabby Beans in the scene-stealing, four-wall shattering role of Sabina. She currently ranks fifth in our odds behind Mary-Louise Parker (“How I Learned to Drive”), Deidre O’Connell (“Dana H.”), Ruth Negga (“Macbeth”), and LaChanze (“Trouble in Mind”), but will have to hold off challengers like Emily Davis (“Is This a Room”). This visually stunning production will likely perform well in the design categories, with potential bids for scenic designer Adam Rigg, costume designer Montana Levi Blanco, and lighting designer Yi Zhao.

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