Thornton Wilder’s allegorical comedy-drama, written in 1942, is filled with farce, history, biblical references and a daring approach to theatre that is as relevant to audiences today as it was back then. It has been referred to as the “Life of Mankind,” with its main characters compared to Adam and Eve.
Wilder takes us through three diverse acts, beginning with the Antrobus’ home in New Jersey as the Ice Age is barreling toward them. Act two takes us to the Fraternal Order of Mammals convention in Atlantic City. Act three brings us back home as the family reunites after a seven-year war.
The play goes off in a variety of directions, with Mr. Antrobus (Tom Roberts) trying his darnedest to save humanity. He has invented the wheel, the alphabet and made other monumental contributions to the world.
Antrobus and his feminist wife (Sarah Leach) and precocious children (Jason Roth and Shannon Hartman) live with their maid Sabina (Melissa Penick) in a house with no heat and little food as the Ice Age forces a dinosaur and mammoth to find refuge, along with a variety of other people.
There’s lots of silliness mixed with profundity as the couple, who have been married for 5,000 years, try to figure out how to save mankind.
Director Josh Short takes liberties with the play by creating a free-for-all intermission that includes a monumental change of scenery, free popcorn and candy cigarettes, music, beach balls and organized chaos.
Act two opens at Atlantic City, complete with dancing girls (and boys) and a fortuneteller (David Tessier) who involves the audience. Sabina, the maid, becomes Miss Atlantic City. Antrobus has been elected president of the FOM and is seduced by her. The floods come and everyone heads for the ark.
After a quiet second intermission, we find the family back at their home in New Jersey, recovering from the seven-year war and trying to find a way to go on and make a new world. Seven of the actors have taken ill, so the play within the play has stagehands and ushers filling in, with hilarious results.
Sabina serves as the commentator, stepping out of her role to attempt speeding the action by telling the audience what happened, as the play comes full circle and back to the message of humankind having the strength and desire to begin again.
The biblical references are fast and furious, as the 1940s become as real today as they were back then. Wilbury’s version of this wacky play is played to the hilt, with nothing held back.
Their first play in the huge warehouse space was held in a tiny corner; the second used about a third of the space. This one takes advantage of the entire building, with red and blue backdrops, a huge moveable set and deep expanses.
It is an over-the-top production unlike anything we’ve seen. Let yourself go, get with the program, catch all those biblical and historical references, and enjoy the craziness.
At Wilbury Theatre, 40 Sonoma Court in Olneyville, through February 4. Call 400-7100 for tickets.