'The Skin of Our Teeth'

10/20/14

Play spans thousands of years--at the same time

BLUFFTON, Ohio—Taking place simultaneously at the dawn of human history, in the 20th century and at the end of the world—complete with talking dinosaurs—Bluffton University’s fall play is zany to say the least. But by refusing to obey the rules of time, “The Skin of Our Teeth” serves as an allegory to the human condition that remains relevant in 2014.

While the plot may seem nonsensical, its messages are clear, says Dr. Melissa Friesen, professor of theatre and communication at Bluffton and director of the play.

“There is an optimism built into this play that we’re going to survive ‘by the skin of our teeth,’” she says.

The play focuses on the Antrobus family living in 1942 New Jersey. George Antrobus spends his days at work inventing things such as the wheel and the alphabet before returning home to his wife of 5,000 years.

Time is distorted to the point that Moses and Homer pay the Antrobus family a visit. And the human race is constantly at risk of extinction, whether by flood or war or ice age.

Bluffton will stage “The Skin of Our Teeth” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30-Nov. 1 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 2 in Ramseyer Auditorium in College Hall. Reserved tickets, $8 for adults and $6 for senior citizens (65 and over) and non-Bluffton students, are available online at http://tickets.bluffton.edu or at the box office—located at the Marbeck Center information desk—between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily. For assistance with tickets, contact the box office at 419-358-3239.

“The play resonated with me from thinking about the contemporary issues that are present in our news and we’re thinking about as a global society, and how we’re all going to survive together on this planet,” Friesen says. “These big issues are addressed in this play.”

She says “The Skin of Our Teeth” is best described as a comic allegory that portrays the human condition in lighthearted fashion. “It definitely has comic moments, and the comedy is a lot of juxtaposition and surprise moments,” she explains. For example, at several points, the Antrobuses’ maid, Sabina, directly complains to the audience that the play is confusing.

A challenging play makes for a challenging production process, and that’s exactly what Friesen wanted for her play production class, whose students work with costume design, lighting, sound, makeup and set design.

“‘Wacky’ is definitely a good word to describe this play, and it makes for some hard designing decisions,” says Rebecca Juliana, a junior in the class from Mechanicsburg, Pa.

“As far as the costume design goes,” the social work major adds, “part of the point of this play is that humanity continually goes through the same sort of struggles all throughout history. So, one of the ideas we had was to overlap as many starkly different eras and time periods as we could, represented through the costumes.”

“A difficulty for this play is that it is full of intentional anachronisms, which makes it a challenge to pick a cohesive theme for set and costume design,” says Shannon Thiebeau, a senior youth ministries major from St. Marys, Ohio, and the play’s stage manager.

But this difficult decision-making gives students a chance to be creative and gain practical theatre production experience, says Friesen “It’s a great opportunity because the play has an unusual structure and tone to it, so that allows a lot of freedom. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity.”

And despite all the zaniness and confusing elements, the audience might just find a message of hope at the end.

“This play serves as an interesting perspective on the idea of history repeating itself,” says Juliana. “But not specifically just history, but more like humans repeating themselves and having the resilience to always rebuild and begin again even after facing the darkest of times.”

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