Watching “Skeleton Crew” is like seeing a slice of life. “Skeleton Crew” is theatre at its best—a prime example of how theater imitates life. Dominique Morrisseau’s play is an intense look at what happens in the lives of factory workers at the last auto exporting plant in Detroit.
There’s Faye, the worker who has done every job in the factory and is trying to make the 30-year mark to get full pension benefits. She is also the union representative and the wise one who gives advice to the younger workers. There’s Shanika, the single, pregnant worker, who has a skill and is trying to create a life that she and her unborn child will be proud of. She loves the work she does and feels a strong sense of pride that she is helping to create something that families will use to take them where they need to be safely. Dez is a young Black man who has goals and dreams and hopes of owning his own auto shop one day. Reggie the supervisor has to keep trying to get the workers to follow the rules. He has to answer to the big bosses and needs his job to pay for the new home he has and to support his wife and children.
“Skeleton Crew” goes behind the factory walls and reveals the faces of the people who wear the protective vests, goggles and gloves and work on the assembly line to get the job done, who do the same job day in and day out and who have a strong work ethic. Morrisseau grabs your attention with these characters and pulls you into their lives.
Although Morrisseau penned the story, this production has a familiar, touching and funny feel to it. That stems from its director, Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Santiago-Hudson has a unique way of capturing your attention and your respect, whether he is performing in August Wilson plays, writing his autobiography “Lackawanna Blues” or directing a production. He seems to have a gift for storytelling that makes you care.
In this production, we see people who are facing the impending loss of their jobs as part of a dying auto industry in Detroit. “Skeleton Crew” has a cast that delivers extraordinary performances. Lynda Gravatt takes on the role of Faye. She is blunt, wise and a survivor. She is a lesbian whose lifestyle choice has cost her a relationship with her son and grandson. Jason Dirden plays Dez and is very confrontational. He feels threatened by everyone and carries a gun to protect himself. At this time in Detroit, people are so poor and so desperate it is commonplace for them to carry guns and Dez is one of those people. There is an atmosphere of desperation as people try to get money by any means necessary to support their families. Nikiya Mathis plays Shanika, the lonely, single mother-to-be who is afraid of losing her job and not having health coverage. Her issues are common in society, her fears real. Wendell B. Franklin plays Reggie, and he does so with intensity and passion. Representing the neglected and overworked factory worker, who performs his task almost robotically is Adesola Osakalumi, who dances in the darkness.
“Skeleton Crew” demonstrates how these workers are like a family and go to great lengths to look out for each other. This production will make you think about how, at any time, we can all be moments away from our final paycheck. You also realize that in this society having a specialized skill does not guarantee employment.
“Skeleton Crew” is playing at Atlantic Theatre Company’s Linda Gross Theater, located at 336 W. 20th St., through June 19, 2016. The storyline, acting and directing are enhanced by the marvelous, authentic looking technical aspects of the production. There is wonderful set design by Michael Carnahan, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Rui Rita, original music and sound design by Rob Kaplowitz and choreography by Osakalumi. Automobile factory workers’ reality and fears are waiting to be shared. Go see “Skeleton Crew.”
For more information, visit www.atlantictheater.org.