Skeleton Crew is set in 2008 Detroit, at one of its last remaining auto-stamping plants. The workers here know their time is almost up, and they are looking to the future, with some hope but mostly with fear. The economy and the city is crumbling around them. How will they survive the transition and what waits for them on the other side?
At first, watching Skeleton Crew was like watching Shakespeare. It took me a few minutes to relax into the dialogue and understand the words. After that, the cadence took over and had a rhythm that was lovely to follow and moved the heart. We were in the lunch room with Faye, the union rep who has been at the plant for 29 years; Dez who dreams of opening his own auto shop; single-mother-to-be Shanita; and Reggie, the foreman who started on the floor just like everyone else. The relationships present themselves to us gently, as we learn about Faye’s relationship with her unseen son and the tightrope Reggie walks while trying to take care of his subordinates and be a company man at the same time. This is not a play where you hold your breath during explosive scenes. This is a play where you are listening, like a fly on the wall, to what is happening in these people’s lives. Afterwards, you realize how strong the experience was, even though the story unfolded without huge emotional upheavals or violence. According to Ben Brantley’s NY Times review, “Ms. Morisseau is less interested in igniting the sensationalism for which her plot would seem to be wired than in rendering lives that, even in crisis, retain their quotidian flow, because life, after all, has a way of going on. And as written, directed and performed, each character exists fluidly and comprehensibly within that stream.”
When I was a young adult, several of my friends worked in a can factory. They didn’t put things in cans; they made the actual cans. Life on a factory floor could be physically grueling, but the money was good and the work was steady, until it wasn’t. Today’s work culture, especially here in the Bay Area, is different. Our millennials walk in to work every day, or work from home, knowing that the company might be huge or might fold in a week. If it doesn’t last, you move on. It isn’t physical work, unless you have a treadmill desk. You aren’t “making” anything. This play is a glimpse into a world foreign to many young people these days, but it was an important point in history that deserves to be remembered and noted.
The performances of Margo Hall as Faye, Christian Thompson as Dez, Tristan Cunningham as Shanita, and Lance Gardner as Reggie were all individually excellent but, put together, the cast fit nicely without any gaps and was a great example of ensemble acting. The direction by Jade King Carroll enhanced the story without gimmicks and allowed the story to be the center of attention.
Skeleton Crew is the second show we’ve seen this year with Dominique Morisseau’s name on it. She also wrote the book for Berkeley Rep’s Broadway-bound Ain’t Too Proud. This play was the third in Morisseau’s Detroit Trilogy, and you can be sure I will now be on the lookout for an opportunity to see her other work.
Skeleton Crew at the Marin Theatre Company: Playing through February 18, 2018. 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets available on their website.