New Baylor production brings both laughs and depth

Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer
“The Skin of our Teeth” is performed by students of Baylor Theatre Monday in the Mabee Theatre.

By Bonnie Burger

Audiences can expect laughs, engaging scenes and active participation from the Baylor Theatre’s newest production, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” opening at the Mabee Theatre at 7:30 p.m on Feb. 1.

Shelby Hibbs, a graduate student from North Little Rock, Ark., is directing the dramatic comedy depicting the bizarre adventures of the Antrobus family in the face of impending doom.

“Each act is its own little world,” Hibbs said. “It’s not a linear progression of events. Jumping from one act to the next, there are many stories being told.”

The story settings include the Ice Age, Great Flood and a throwback to the Roaring Twenties.

A mixture of humor and intensity, overshadowed with strong biblical themes, the play purposely draws in the audience.

Hibbs alluded to specific roles the audience plays, careful to leave hints of curiosity and ambiguity.

“Unlike other theater performances, you will use your cell phone,” she said.

The nature of the production calls patrons to action, at times drawing onlookers onstage with the actors.

“We want to see if we can build a community of people throughout the audience,” Hibbs said. “It’s rewarding to have the opportunity to take that risk. It’s also rewarding if that risk pays off.”

This risk also allows for every production to have an element of improvisation.

“Concerning audience participation, there’s an unknown of what’s going to happen, how that person is going to react or interact with you,” said Richard Ross, a Dallas sophomore playing the part of Mr. Antrobus. “This play is all about breaking boundaries between the audience, the performance and the actors.”

The play is part of Hibbs’ thesis for the Master of Fine Arts directing program. She first encountered “The Skin of Our Teeth” as an undergraduate student at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.

During her thesis preparation, Hibbs returned to the script she found “hysterical and fascinating,” after reading more than 60 scripts.

“The play has more substance to it,” she said. “It portrays ideas of human community, spirit, myth, progress and defining what progress is.”

In addition to the play’s comedic element, patrons can expect depth to each character.

“It’s been fun to dissect [my] character,” Ross said. “Mr. Antrobus is a representation of man, an Adam figure, with this great flaw. He’s trying to cover this flaw by righting the world.”

Hibbs strove for a collective collaboration between herself and the actors, often drawing from their feedback and pursuing collaborative research together.

“Shelby has been a real creative and experimental leader with the production,” said dramaturg and theater historian Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard. “I think everybody is finding the work to be very rewarding.

Thornton Wilder wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opened on Broadway in 1942.

“[The audience] will find it to be unpredictable and not exactly what they’re used to, in a good way,” Toten Beard said. “I think they can expect to be surprised and to laugh a lot and to have their thinking really challenged in a positive way.”

“The Skin of Our Teeth” runs nightly through Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m., with two matinee performances at 2 p.m. Feb. 5 and 6. Tickets are available at the Baylor Theatre Box Office for $15.