ASR Theater ~~ Thornton Wilder’s Charming, Epic-Length “Skin of Our Teeth”

By Joanne Engelhardt

In a way, Los Altos Stage Company’s production of The Skin of Our Teeth is somewhat like a Ringling Brothers three-ring circus: It’s got woolly mammoths, it’s got an Atlantic City seductress, and it has an ice wall pushing down from Canada into New Jersey.

Thornton Wilder’s 1942 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is about as close to an allegory of the entire history of the world ever attempted on stage. It gets a decent, if “mammoth-sized”, production, thanks to the efforts of director Chris Reber, five strong actors, and an interesting scenic design enhanced by Reber’s creative projection touches.

… “An antic ode to human resilience…”

It’s difficult to describe Skin in a few words because just when it seems to be veering toward sheer fantasy, something akin to pathos pops up. And though attempts are made to modernize it (like adding a few visual sound bites from TMZ), some might think it shows its age.


In any case, as the play opens, a beleaguered Mr. Antrobus is making his way home during a full-blown blizzard, exhausted but exhilarated after a hard day at the office doing such things as dividing M and N as he invents the alphabet. (He’s also inventing the lever and the wheel … …)

Michael Hirsch plays Mr. Antrobus with authority and a bit of wonder, especially when it comes to his family. As Mrs. Antrobus, Mary Hill is a neurotic marvel. She pops and twirls around with motherly authority in period dresses that float around her thanks to lots of crinoline petticoats.

(L-R) Kristin Walter and Olga Molona at work.

But first it’s the ditzy maid Sabina (a delightful Kristin Walters) who commands the audience’s attention. Using her little feather duster, she flits around the stage dusting this, that and whatever suits her fancy, including other people. She tells anyone who will listen that she can no longer stand being the Antrobus family’s maid and she gives Mrs. A her two-weeks’ notice. “That’s the law!” she smirks. Sabina’s also the character who breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience and suggesting several times that a scene should be skipped. Irascible to the end, she guides us through the willful anachronisms of the play.  At one point, Mrs. A yells at Sabina because she (Sabina) apparently let the fire go out in the fireplace. Now, Mrs. A says, her family will freeze to death, so she sends Sabina out in the blizzard to gather more twigs.

Mary Hill and Michael Hirsch in “The Skin of Our Teeth”.

When Act 2 opens, the Antrobus family is now in Atlantic City on vacation and celebrating their 5,000th wedding anniversary. Mrs. A, carrying a purse large enough to hold a good-sized dog, says she’s delighted that her husband can enjoy a few days with the family and relax. He’s also there to give a speech and to announce the winner of the “Miss Atlantic City” beauty contest.

Turns out Kristin Walters (Sabina), now wearing a sexy bathing suit and cover-up, is the contest winner, and Mr. A is ready for a little extra-marital fling. Spoiler Alert: Mrs. A makes sure he doesn’t get the chance.

Four actors (LASC’s artistic director Gary Landis, Olga Molina, Patty Reinhart and Sam Kruger) play a number of ensemble roles. Molina stands out as the gypsy fortuneteller, and Landis is deadpan funny wearing a UPS uniform in short pants.

The Antrobus children, Henry (Max Mahle) and Gladys (a pert Emily Krayn) have very little stage time and only a few lines, so it’s difficult to judge their performances.

It’s likely most theatergoers will recognize that many of the things happening in the lives of the Antrobus family are still relevant today: Hoards of homeless people have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat; a large poster states “Make Mammals Great Again,” and there’s a sequence where Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus attempt to herd various animals (some long extinct) into a ship (aka Noah’s Ark).

(L-R) Kristin Walter, Mary Hill, costumed Sam Kruger and Patty Reinhardt, and Gary Landis.

Kudos to Jonathan Covey for excellent sound,  to Aya Matsutomo for comprehensive lighting, Yusuke Soi for good scenic design, and Miranda Whipple’ for zany props (a gargantuan “A” is part of the Antrobus’ living room décor.)

However, the production team ‘s decision to combine Acts 2 and 3 into one “Act 2” (with only “one brief pause”), the play’s overall length (~2 hours and 45 minutes), and the play’s period dialog and sexual politics–might be a stretch for some modern audience members.

In the end, Skin is a rallying cry for a world that could use some reassurance that it will, despite everything, carry on — even if by “The Skin of Our Teeth.”


Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact:


ProductionThe Skin of Our Teeth
Written byThornton Wilder
Directed byChris Reber
Producing CompanyLos Altos Stage Co.
Production DatesThru May 5th
Production Address97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos, CA
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
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