An Adorable Apocalypse
Marquette University’s production of The Skin of Our Teeth has much to recommend it. There are some great performances in a contemporary staging one of the weirdest mainstream dramas of the 20th century. There’s a clever production design including multiple eras of costuming and scenery. There are animated digital backdrops on large rear-projection screens. There’s a real stylishness about it that reaches way beyond a decent script presented by some really great performances including that of Marissa Ellison as host and domestic servant Sabina.
And then there’s the cute. It’s fun to follow along with the production’s playful rendering of the comically epic scope of Thornton Wilder’s script. The first act precedes the ice age and feels very much like pre-cold-war America. The first intermission music includes Ice Ice Baby. The second act which precedes a flood is Nixon-era America. The second intermission music includes Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head. Then there’s the apocalypse. It all ends with It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). (12 hours later and Michael Stipe’s voice is still echoing through my head.)
Somewhere in the mix are a lot of little details that work as side gags. At one point in the first act, a doctor is allowed into the house. The Doctor appears in a floppy hat, curly wig and long scarf. Down to the last detail, Nicholas Cardonnier is dressed as a shorter, younger version of Tom Baker as Dr. Who from the '70s. Honestly, I might have been the only one in the audience laughing at that. I'm guessing there were a lot of other visual gags that I might have missed given the detailing on all the elements of production.
And there are puppets. (Big ones.) Prior to the ice age, the family has a couple of pets: a dinosaur and a woolly mammoth. I’d seen a couple of different productions of Wilder’s classic, but I’d never seen the pets come across as being so...cute. Nick Parrott is in an evidently single-person pantomime horse-style suit as the mammoth. Caroline Norton is in a similar giant puppet as the dinosaur. Each of the both of them has its own personality. They’re big things that aren’t exactly much to look at, but with Norton and Parrott inside them, there’s a fun and playful energy about the big pets that makes their fate all the more heartbreaking. Just the type of thing that adds to a thoroughly enjoyable show with lots of pleasantly strange things going on around the edges.
Marquette University Theatre's production of The Skin of Our Teeth runs through Feb. 26 at the Helfaer Theatre. For ticket reservations and more, call 414-288-7504 or visit showclix.com/events/marquettetheatre. A comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd Express.