Friday, August 1, 2008

Thats Our Simone

A little melodrama for the midweek, we decided to see what the press was buzzing about (see article below.) Our Simone and her stage mates were fabulous, funny, and most importantly, entertaining.

One suggestion for any theater goers, this is not a liner story so take a quick peek at the plot before making your way to the ticket booth. The 4 of us finally cut through the confusion by act 2.

By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 16, 2008; Page C12

Seasoned theatergoers can be forgiven for flinching when they hear the title "The Skin of Our Teeth." Start with actors as prehistoric beasts in a weirdly timeless Ice Age and a key character rebelling against the script, then switch to moral failings in Atlantic City and thunderous plunderings from the Bible -- it can be a bit much if ill-handled.

Yet Rorschach Theatre is making a vigorous case for Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-winning 1942 play in a visually astute, sneakily immediate production at Georgetown University. It's as if director Rahaleh Nassri and her cast see no difficulties, only opportunities as the ramshackle story grapples with the never-ending plight of mankind.

The opening act (of three) calls for high melodrama that veers toward camp, and Jjana Valentiner and Wyckham Avery are ready, backs of hands to their foreheads. Valentiner is Sabina, vampy, flighty maid to the Antrobus family (and the one who keeps snapping out of character at the zaniness and insensitivity of it all). Avery is the dutiful Mrs. Antrobus, and they're both home waiting for Mr. Antrobus to help them figure out what to do about this Ice Age that's descending upon, um, New Jersey.

The writing is cartoonish and chaotic, but Nassri -- who admirably directed Tony Kushner's challenging "A Bright Room Called Day" for Rorschach in 2006 -- coolly controls the heightened style. The actors are winning and even funny, and the Antrobuses' suburban house is rendered as a white scrim upon which large shadows play as people (and creatures) come and go.

Oh, and those spiky white things towering to the side of Robbie Hayes's set: They look rather glacial. But they also look as though they're rigged to suggest another purpose. (Think oil.)

You stop guessing and go with the unexpected flow as the epochs change and Nassri finds good uses for such anachronisms as a juggling Elvis and a lively sample of the 1980s pop tune "Tainted Love." The established conflicts repeat in Act 2: Mr. Antrobus's eye roves toward Sabina, the Antrobuses' son Henry has a penchant for violence -- he answers to "Cain" -- and another crisis is in the wind. This time, it's a storm being monitored with threat levels that will seem all too familiar to post-9/11 audiences.

Not that Nassri makes that link explicit, though the red-white-and-blue palette that dominates much of the act is hard to miss. But the tone keeps shifting, slowly sobering up, so the play seems to march naturally toward something that by Act 3 looks a lot like our own wartime era and isn't a laughing matter at all.

The actors take to this arc, with Valentiner and Avery doing especially dizzy and then pointed work as the women who cope with the crises that keep coming their way. Scott McCormick is a good vainglorious Mr. Antrobus, inventor of the wheel and the alphabet, and Cesar A. Guadamuz handles both the sprightly and psychotic sides of Henry with a fiery eye.

The company seems at home in the plush surroundings of Georgetown's Gonda Theater (a radical change from Rorschach's origins in found spaces) and also with the aesthetic stretch that is "The Skin of Our Teeth." Rorschach has tackled vintage material before, but its main interest is contemporary works; the impressively busy troupe also has a new Jason Grote play running at Georgetown and is readying an original four-part serial to begin this week.

They've blown the dust off this one. As Nassri's gang renders it, Wilder's drama feels like the granddaddy of the edgy material Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been doing for years, finding loopy ways to goof off and then land hard.

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