1 9 8 3 (USA)
1 x 140 minute episode
Broadcast on 18 January 1983, this episode of the PBS dramatic anthology series American Playhouse presented a live performance of the surreal and comical Thornton Wilder play The Skin of Our Teeth from the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California.
Act I begins in the home of the Antrobus family in the town of Excelsior and is simultaneously set in modern-day New Jersey and an Ice Age, with the unities of time and space swept aside.
The Antrobus family maid, Sabina (Blair Brown), reflects on the state of the world and talks about the family: Mr George Antrobus (Harold Gould) is responsible for such inventions as fire, the wheel and the alphabet, and Mrs Antrobus (Sada Thompson) is fiercely protective of their children, Henry (Jeffrey Combs) and Gladys (Monique Fowler). Sabina reveals that there was once an older brother who was killed by Henry.
Blair Brown then breaks the fourth wall to complain about the play, particularly its surreal setting. The stage manager convinces her to continue as Mrs Antrobus enters, annoyed at Sabina for letting the fire go out.
Sabina threatens to quit, and Mrs Antrobus reflects on how Sabina was brought into the house to make her jealous, but Sabina insists that she is responsible for inspiring Mr Antrobus to invent things like the alphabet.
They receive a telegram from Mr Antrobus in the city, and at the same time, they let in a dinosaur and a woolly mammoth from the cold. The telegraph boy (Gary Dontzig) relays the message from Mr Antrobus, talking about his progress with the alphabet and the multiplication table. He also talks about the massive wall of ice slowly making its way from the north, and re-lights the Antrobus family’s fireplace.
Mrs Antrobus calls in the children to prepare them for their father’s arrival. It is revealed that Henry is apparently the biblical Cain – complete with the Mark of Cain on his forehead – and that his parents struggle to curb his violent tendencies.
Mr Antrobus returns home, bringing food and a prototype for the wheel with him. He discusses the impending ice age with Mrs Antrobus, not wanting to frighten the children. Many have already fallen victim to it, and all they can think to do is to keep the fire going.
Suddenly the Antrobus house is surrounded by figures in black clothing begging to be let in. Mr Antrobus says that these are people he’s invited in to spare them from the cold, mainly learned folk. Mrs Antrobus is unwilling to share their meagre supplies with them, arguing that knowledge is useless against the impending wall of ice.
Mr Antrobus argues that once the ice age has passed, they will need such knowledge to help rebuild society. Mrs Antrobus finally relents but demands that the dinosaur and mammoth be thrown out, and Mr Antrobus reluctantly complies.
The visitors – including such figures as Moses, Homer, and the Muses – are let in.
Henry attacks a neighbour for trying to steal the wheel, and Mr Antrobus is so enraged he stamps out the fire.
Mrs Antrobus points to all the other disasters they’ve survived in their time, and Mr Antrobus gradually composes himself, instructing Henry to break their furniture to provide them with firewood. The fourth wall is broken again as seats from the audience are used to help fuel the fire, and Act I ends as Sabina implores the audience to lend a hand.
Act II begins on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Mr Antrobus has just been elected president of the “Order of Mammals,” and a convention is being held.
He gives a television interview about his new position and advises everyone to “enjoy yourselves.” Representatives of the other “orders” have sent one male and one female representative to the convention. Meanwhile, Sabina has been awarded the title of Miss America by Mr Antrobus. She plans to try to steal Mr Antrobus away from Mrs Antrobus.
A fortune teller on the boardwalk (Rue McClanahan) predicts that a great apocalyptic storm is approaching, but her warnings go unheeded as everyone on the boardwalk is too busy partying. It is revealed that Henry has attacked someone on the boardwalk and is now hiding from the police.
As a terrible storm descends, Mr Antrobus herds his family and the delegates from the other species onto a boat before the Great Flood begins.
Act III is set in the aftermath of a seven-year apocalyptic war.
Mr George Antrobus
Dinosaur, Chair Pusher
Miss T Muse, Audio Person
Miss M Muse, Showgirl
Miss E Muse, Ivy
Newsreel Announcer (voice)