By S. Hennessy Machado-Hidalgo
“The Skin of Our Teeth” is a bizarre, fun existential ride reimagined and directed for an East Los Angeles audience by producing director James Buglewicz.
The three hours of the play guides the audience through an ice age, biblical flood and war with a combination of kooky comedy and heart.
Hazy blue lights and the sounds of wind immerse the audience into the 1950s home of the Antrobus family in Hacienda Heights during the ice age.
The family maid Sabina, played by Crystal Ruby Juarez, and Mrs. Antrobus, played by Andrea Reynoso, go from bickering to working together to block the entryway when unexpected guests arrive outside.
The equally adorable Dinosaur, played by Alexis Castro, and Mammoth, played by Lizbeth Solis Abarca, bemoan how cold they are outside and Mrs. Antrobus begrudgingly allows them in by the fire – the fire she had to restart because Sabina let it go out.
Sabina presents a careless front, but is deeply concerned and pessimistic – especially with her position in life.
Mrs. Antrobus consistently supports her family, but is resistant to show vulnerability.
Mr. Antrobus, played by Jesse Diaz, garners the public’s respect and admiration with his invention of math, the alphabet and the wheel, while Mrs. Antrobus is concerned with how their family will survive.
Their children Gladys and Henry, played by Julia Anahuac Chavez and Giovanny Benavente, have their mother’s love and vie for their father’s affection.
Henry is a young, fiery teenager with violent tendencies that have previously transformed the family.
Gladys is younger and gets joy from admiring her teddy bears and sharing her teachers’ praises with her parents.
She comforts her father with the praises she received as the family and the refugees they took in face the end.
The cuckoo clock above rings out and gradually distorts into maddening sounds as the stage fades to black.
The family survives the ice age and begins the second act in Las Vegas with Mr. Antrobus addressing a crowd lauding his presidency.
The crowd chants, “Enjoy yourselves!”
The Whee Mobile Driver, played by Marina Love Chavez, uses a cart powered by Mr. Antrobus’s invention to push passengers through the crowd as they cheerfully squeal. Chavez does a stand out job with comedic timing and accents.
In this land of hedonism, Sabina decides to cash in on Mr. Antrobus’s wandering eye. He embraces the seduction and breaks up his 5,000 year long marriage.
It could be tempting to write Sabina off as a home-wrecking villain in the second act, but each time she breaks the fourth wall the audience must face her complexity.
She breaks during the seduction scene when she says, “I don’t think the theater is the place to hurt people’s feelings.”
She thinks it’s especially not fair of Stage Manager Mr. Fitzpatrick, played by Colby Vasquez, to include such a scene given his history.
This leads to him breaking the fourth wall as well, walking from his operational booth to the stage for the first time in a heated fury.
The collaborative chemistry and depth created by Juarez and Reynoso between Sabina and Mrs. Antrobus also gains the empathy of the audience within the walls of the play.
The oppositional seductress chasing a better life and the mother seeking to maintain the unity of her family is a dynamic that builds up each act.
Diaz’s approach to Mr. Antrobus highlights his kinder aspects, making the audience not wish complete damnation of him in the coming biblical flood.
The sensual, jazzy tunes accompanying the seduction shifts to the rumbling sounds of thunder and rain.
Animal cutouts rise above the back of the audience seats to represent the animals from the biblical story of Noah’s ark.
The cast and crew shift the set around while acting out being caught in the storm of the play.
The momentary extension of the stage past the audience is one the many fun experimental breaks from traditional theater the performance does.
The third act is introduced by the transition of the storm sounds into gunfire.
Sabina calls out her lines in the Antrobus’ old home to no response, leading to yet another fourth wall break.
We learn from Mr. Fitzpatrick that several of the actors got COVID-19 after a long night at Monterey Park’s Venice Room, a locally-loved karaoke bar. This reference got a few giggles and eyebrow raises from older audience members.
The play continues as the main cast is not affected, just late.
After the war, Gladys is now a mother herself and Henry rose through the ranks of the enemy side.
Henry hopes to kill his father on sight, but his mother meets him first.
She leads him to their couch and takes off the colorful cobija, or blanket, around her shoulders to cover Henry as he rests and she removes his gun.
Without his gun, Henry is not able to kill his father immediately when they meet. As Henry reaches for Mr. Antrobus’s neck, Sabina once again halts the play.
She worries because Henry got carried away before.
This leads to Henry and Mr. Antrobus breaking the fourth wall as well for a powerful moment that had the audience tearing up.
Henry says, “It’s as though you have to kill others to avoid killing yourself.”
Buglewicz brilliantly directed the play, the performers made even the most questionable characters endearing and the crew crafted a perfectly-suited ambience.
The play, as originally written by Thornton Wilder, took place in a fictional New Jersey town and had topical commentary regarding 1940s America.
Buglewicz reconceptualized the play with references to local locations and more recent events such as the pandemic.
The play is absurd and abstract; for audiences who have seen the films “Don’t Look Up” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the feelings, themes and structure feel familiar.
The wacky end-of-the-world plot and compassionate exploration of the human condition through varied realities makes this play heartfelt, thought-provoking and insanely entertaining.
The upcoming evening showtimes are 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday as well.
Tickets can be purchased from ELACTheater.org for $10 or at the door for $12.