Tonya Beckman, left, and Lilian Oben in Thornton Wilder's “The Skin of Our Teeth.” (Daniel Schwartz/Daniel Schwartz)
Theater critic

Refugees bang at the windows. War breaks out. Cain, renamed Henry by the play's archetypal Antrobus family, has slain Abel. Everything is always coming apart. So, sure, why not bring back Thornton Wilder's peculiar 1942 fable now?

Epic reductions are the house specialty at Constellation Theatre, and Wilder's purposefully self-conscious play shambles amiably across the intimate stage at Source. There is no fly space at Source, yet set designer A.J. Guban's characteristically handsome arts-and-crafts-style house for the Antrobus family somehow folds up into the ceiling to make way for an Atlantic City boardwalk. The living room feels suitably postwar by the final act.

"Skin of Our Teeth" is a harder play to reanimate, though, than Wilder's similarly simple-yet-cosmic "Our Town," which has had charismatic recent productions — in the surprisingly moving commedia dell'arte staging by Faction of Fools, and in Aaron Posner's deeply acted version with bunraku puppets at Olney Theatre Center in the fall. Director Mary Hall Surface does not come at this with a heavily interpretive bent; that's not the Constellation brand. It's a straight-up serving of the famously twisted show.

Malinda Kathleen Reese and, inside the mammoth, Ben Lauer. (Daniel Schwartz/Daniel Schwartz)

The show is at its best while establishing its across-the-eons terms with the mammoth and a dinosaur invading the living room of Mrs. Antrobus (a wonderfully dignified Lolita Marie) and Mr. Antrobus (the businesslike Steven Carpenter), who is inventing such basics as the wheel and the alphabet. Surface finds the right tempo: The performance is wry, never twee. And aside from a dinosaur get-up that's a little too much like what you'd see in a school play, the show looks sharp, thanks to Frank Labovitz's smartly tailored costumes, from the bathing suits and boater hats on the boardwalk to the postwar camo pants Sabina sports near the end.

Lilian Oben sounds foreboding notes as a fortuneteller, and Dallas Tolentino gives a shadowy, angry performance as the misfit, murderous son Henry. Yet aside from a flicker of right now frustration sparked by Beckman, as Sabina, sums up, this "Skin" doesn't plug all the way in to how Wilder's timeless patterns are swamping us all over again. The show hits the script's marks with the accuracy of a textbook.

If you go
The Skin of Our Teeth

Source, 1835 14th St. NW. 202-204-7741.

Dates: Through Feb. 11.

Tickets: $25-$55.