Dominique Morisseau’s play “Skeleton Crew” playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, on W 47th Street, puts the plight of the working man and woman, front and center with an incredible amount of honesty and respect! “Skeleton Crew” gives working men and women their due! Set in an automotive plant in Detroit, Michigan, it focuses on the lives of the line workers and a Black manager and carefully engages the audience interests in their daily struggles and fears. Struggles to survive as automotive plants in Detroit are shutting down and becoming ghost towns. Struggles to survive as people are arming themselves and killing each other, like it’s the Wild West.
We are immediately introduced to line workers Faye, Dez, and pregnant, single mother-to-be Shanita. Faye is the 29-year veteran at the plant, the union representative, a sassy-mouthed lesbian and a mentor to the younger workers. Dez is a young man who has hopes and dreams of having his own autobody business one day. Shanita takes great pride in working with her hands and being a part of making vehicles that serve so many important, basic purposes in people’s daily lives. She has a pride, a strong work ethic and incredible work values. It is wonderful to do a job that you feel proud of, a job that gives you a value, to the point that the sound of the machines on the line is music to your ears. Reggie, a Black man in a management position, has a lot going on. He tries to keep the workers in line and have them follow company rules, but they challenge and ignore his wishes at every turn. Like so many Black men, he has to walk a thin line between being a manager who will please the white bosses and also being a Black man who is looking out for his people. Reggie also has a very special connection to Faye.
Morisseau, in depicting the way that factory workers are worked like machines, utilizes a marvelous dancer, who performs more to show the tedious routines that these factory workers face on a daily basis. Morisseau is a champion for these workers as she depicts very dramatically how they are constantly worked and have to keep up with the line and output no matter what. There is something very fragile and delicate that Morisseau addresses and that is how close we all can be to having our lives go in the wrong direction. Anyone can be taken to the point of being that unfortunate homeless person on the street that you used to turn away from. Life is a daily struggle to survive and thrive and she also demonstrates the pride and resiliency of people who seem to be pushed to the limit. She highlights that independent spirit of the working man and woman that won’t allow them to quit or accept charity or pity but makes them pull themselves up by their bootstraps and figure things out for themselves. The Black characters here also demonstrate a marvelous loyalty to one another and there is a great sense of a willingness towards self-sacrifice for the good of the many. I won’t explain what I mean by that, but when you experience the play you will see it.
Stupendous! This cast delivers touching performances and takes the audience on a memorable rollercoaster ride of emotions as they demonstrate the heart, soul, humor, hardships, dreams and desperate circumstances that can befall anyone of us at any time. Phylicia Rashad is unbelievably poignant as Faye. This veteran thespian never ceases to amaze me, with regards to the variety and depth of characters that she can inhabit! Brandon J. Dirden is absolutely magnificent as Reggie, a man who is trying to maintain a balancing act between looking out for his people and pleasing his White bosses. He is a man who represents many Black men that have to play “the game” to make sure that everyone keeps their jobs; he is able to take care of his family and he is able to keep being deemed “non-threatening” to management. Joshua Boone is brilliant as Dez, a young man who has dreams, but also seems to be a victim of the times and the rebellious attitude among the marginalized workforce. Chante Adams is a subtle treasure as Shanita. She brings out all the many interesting layers of this character. Representing human beings as machines to be exploited and worked, performer Adesola Osakalumi delivers stunningly dramatic dance move as the dancing figure in the background representing the human machine. His placement throughout the play demonstrates how the worker is treated like another cog in the wheel.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s direction is poignant! He has proven time and again that he conducts a Masterclass every time he is part of a theatrical endeavor.
“Skeleton Crew” is quite a relevant work these days as the pandemic has caused businesses to close and many people to lose their jobs. There are many people who have been thrust into situations that they never thought they would see themselves in and situations that they have no control over. “Skeleton Crew” hits home with a vengeance! For more info, visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com.