The award-winning director Lileana Blain-Cruz has a glittering track record of bringing new plays to furious life (Marys Seacole, Pipeline) and infusing revivals with blistering vitality (Fefu and Her Friends, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead).
Now, as Lincoln Center Theater’s resident director, Blain-Cruz is making her Broadway debut with a spectacular production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Skin of Our Teeth. Moving through several centuries of human history, the play follows the Antrobus family as they face a series of life-threatening, cataclysmic events—and yet, hope remains. Blain-Cruz spoke about why this play resonates now, how this cast reflects the complexity of the world, and the specific and radical catharsis the play offers to all.
Vogue: Congratulations on your Broadway debut! How are you feeling?
Lileana Blain-Cruz: It’s a big cast and it’s a lot of our debuts! I’ve been wanting to work on this scale for a long time, so it’s exciting.
What does scale mean to you in this production?
I’ve been working for several years Off-Broadway, and in smaller theater spaces, and the bigger-scale pieces I’ve been able to do have been out of town, or in the opera. In its storytelling through design, and in relationship to epicness of story, theater as a medium is impacted by scale. Particularly for The Skin of Our Teeth, which is about the end of the world over and over and over again, and the totality of human existence, scale is helpful.
You mention it’s a big cast. How does having so many bodies on stage play into scale?
To get at the sense of the world, you need a world. I asked for 28 people, and they went for it because, to get at that complexity and density, to understand how people can feel overwhelmed, you need to feel the pressure of that. On the other side, in the third act when everybody is gone, that, for me, is the devastating part. You’ve lived through such density in the first and second acts, and in the third act, Sabina’s first question is, “Are they dead, too?” She doesn’t ask, “Are they dead?” She asks, “Are they dead, too?” And it’s like: That’s what war does. It eliminates people. People are lost. And you feel the absence of that. And I don’t know if, without that density and number of people, you’d feel the emptiness of Act Three.