For her first production on the Vivian Beaumont stage, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Resident Director at LCT, chose Thorton Wilder’s 1942 drama, The Skin of Our Teeth. Had it been a long-time dream of hers to investigate this story that depicts an Everyman family as it tries to survive one end-of-the-world event after another?

“Not exactly,” she told me during a break from rehearsal. “I first read this play in grad school” – she has her MFA from Yale and an undergraduate degree from Princeton. “And I thought: what is this? I wasn’t sure I wanted to direct it as my thesis. But a part of the play stayed with me. I notice in my career that works I don’t fully grasp at first often circle back in my life. Another example is Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World” – which Blain-Cruz directed to acclaim, and an Obie Award in 2016. “As an artist and as a person, there are some things you only begin to truly comprehend when you’ve lived a little more.”

Reading The Skin of Our Teeth, which zigzags between references both ancient and modern, frequently breaks the wall between actors and audience, and mixes moods and styles – there is burlesque, farce, dark humor, and the tragedy of both catastrophe anticipated and catastrophe survived – can be a challenge. When I pointed these things out to Blain-Cruz, she replied: “The play can seem dense, but in the mouths of good actors the text achieves a clarity.” She added: “For this production, we have 28 actors, and each of them is bringing something individual to their roles. I love actors, full-stop, and I especially love the discovery of actors truly working in the moment.”

Blain-Cruz said it is important to have such a large cast in order to feel the big waves of chaos that engulf the story – “in the first act, Wilder writes that a group of refugees arrive in desperation of the coming catastrophe. Right now, we are watching people in Ukraine fleeing. This is devastating, and yet something we constantly see in the news. And you can’t help but think: How is this happening again? Have we, as human beings, learned nothing?”

The Skin of Our Teeth provides perspective on that question in part by taking the long view: its central characters, Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, may be 25,000 years old. And the long view, Blain-Cruz commented, suggests not only futility but endurance. “Wilder suggests that there is a choice for survival, there is a choice to continue. If we sometimes tip over the brink into loss, we’re reminded to pick up and start again. But it’s all unresolved and that’s another thing I love about this play.”

I asked Blain-Cruz if that irresolution may be one reason why, in 1942, some of the audiences left the theater feeling puzzled. She responded: “Wilder employed some incredibly innovative techniques: the breaking of the fourth wall, the mixture of tones and timeframes. Audiences today might feel comfortable with these theatrical devices, but in 1942 this was all shocking. What’s interesting, and kind of wonderful, is that some of the collisions Wilder creates still feel unexpectedly new –as though he wrote the play yesterday. Branden’s additions heighten this feeling even more.” (The playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has contributed additional material for the production.) Blain-Cruz added: “There is something so deeply theatrical in Wilder’s work. He asks for audiences to embrace the imaginative participation of the theater and celebrate the liveness of the event. We have so many choices in our entertainment right now, but The Skin of Our Teeth is built for the theater. For me, that’s another aspect of its appeal and its excitement. So come to the theater!”

Brendan Lemon is the editor of