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The Skin of Our Teeth: A Play (Perennial Classics) Paperback – April 15, 2003
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About the Author
Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works, exploring the connection between the commonplace and cosmic dimensions of human experience, continue to be read and produced around the world. His Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of seven novels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928, as did two of his four full-length dramas, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). Wilder's The Matchmaker was adapted as the musical Hello, Dolly!. He also enjoyed enormous success with many other forms of the written and spoken word, among them teaching, acting, the opera, and films. (His screenplay for Hitchcock's Shadow of Doubt  remains a classic psycho-thriller to this day.) Wilder's many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee's Medal for Literature.
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I’ve read, and even re-read Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. But that is the only one of his that I have actually read, though I had seen “Our Town” produced, yes, in high school. I figured an actual reading of the play was long overdue. Donald Margulies has written one of the best Forwards ever, in terms of “drawing the reader in,” to this play, or any other. “Welcome – or welcome back – to ‘Our Town,’” as he concludes. He commences by indicating the reader’s first exposure was probably in late grade school, or high school, with portions of this play being sandwiched in an anthology with selections from John Steinbeck and Edith Wharton. Our opinions of the play have been shaped from the “school assignment era.” He urges the reader to re-consider now that they are old enough, with actual life experiences, to truly understand the inherent beauty of the play, and I would agree.
The town in question is Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire. It is the turn of the century – the LAST century… 1901. A small town, with a population of only some 2,000 plus. In the play, an additional two are added, since Dr. Gibbs delivered twins. Nominally, it panders to the longing of many an American, for a simpler time in our heritage, before “active shooter drills” became de rigueur. Purportedly there was a spike in productions of this play after 9-11. Occupations that no longer exist are depicted throughout the play: the milkman, the paperboy who walks from house to house, and even the good doctor, who makes house calls. A much more electronically disconnected, measured pace of life… where even the dog could sleep on Main Street.
In reading it though, there is so much more, just below the surface that make the play one that addresses eternal human concerns. The three acts each focus on one key aspect of life: daily life, marriage, and death. Wilder uses the “Stage Manager” as a “Greek Chorus,” omniscient, that informs the audience of the “befores and afters,” in a succinct, crisp, matter-of-fact New England sentence or two. That energetic newspaper boy, for example, would go on to be the town’s most brilliant student, graduating from MIT, but then he “died in France,” during the Great War. Nostalgia for the past is dampened with the knowledge that women would routinely die during child birth during these “simpler times.”
A few of Wilder’s observations on life are worth repeating (and remembering!): “All those good women standing shoulder to shoulder making sure that the knot’s tied in a mighty public way.” On fighting for one’s country: “Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on the graves…New Hampshire boys… had a notion the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves.” And on fleeting life itself: “You know how it is: you’re twenty-one or twenty-two and you make some decisions; then whisssh! You’re seventy” you’ve been a lawyer for fifty years, and that white-haired lady at your side has eaten over fifty thousand meals with you.”
Oh, and that dog on Main Street, and nostalgia. He could actually sleep there in a prior era… BEFORE 1901, because the pace of life has been picking up, you understand. A good play to read or view, several times in life. 5-stars.
I think that it Our Town, Wilder succeeds in showing that each and every day has meaning and significance. Emily's good-bye speech is among the best soliloquies in all of American theatre, and the love between Emily and George is sweet in its timelessness.
I am a middle school language arts teacher and I do an entire Thornton Wilder unit each year. I am always moved by how this play speaks to both eighth grade students and adults. I find that it means more to me as I get older and begin to see, as Emily did, that we often fail to embrace life as fully as we should.
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My daughter and her high school presented this play for their drama this year.Read more