In Play Reviews

A dingy little break room in a failing Detroit automobile factory is the setting for Skeleton Crew, Dominique Morisseau‘s play about Detroit’s working class now onstage at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Skeleton Crew is set in 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession, and is the third in Morisseau’s three-play cycle called “The Detroit Project”. The factory has laid off many workers, and the skeleton crew, the workers remaining after the layoffs, are plagued by uncertainty. Who’s next? Will the factory close? Rumors abound.

Bobby Bermea and Shelley B. Shelley in Skeleton Crew at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo by David Kinder.

Foreman Reggie (Bobby Bermea) knows the most, since he interfaces with management. He loves his crew and wants the best for them, but also is concerned for his family. He’s a middle class guy now, complete with wife, kids, and a house. He owes his job to Faye (Shelley B. Shelley), who was close to his late mother. Faye, the union rep, is a recent victim of the housing crisis, and ekes out each day hoping the factory stays open long enough for her to reach her 30-year work anniversary and full retirement.

Shanita (Tamera Lyn), is young, strong, accomplished, and eight-months pregnant. What will happen to her when she takes time off for the baby? Or the factory closes?  Dez (Vin Shambry) has a powerful crush on Shanita. He won’t join the union, packs a gun to work, and is generally regarded by management as a trouble maker.

Fear grows in the characters with each passing day. As layers of the onion are peeled back, the audience learns the harrowing roots of these fears. Workers who are proud of their work are at risk of being cast out. What else can they do? Will they be able to find comparable jobs? We all know the answer to that question, as good jobs never did come back in many sectors, and the fallout from 2008 continues to haunt many today.

Vin Shambry, Bobby Bermea, Shelley B. Shelley and Tamera Lyn in Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo by David Kinder.

Morisseau is a formidable playwright. Her play is timely, intense, and all the more brilliant due to excellent direction by William (Bill) Earl Ray and an outstanding cast. Dancers McKensie Rummel, Leslie North, and Jeff George add a special effect in their silhouetted dancing/mime above the stage between scenes, choreographed by Kemba Shannon.

In Skeleton Crew, Morisseau has written a love song for the City of Detroit, once one of the richest and most middle class cities in the country. She fearlessly tackles the problems that define our society, particularly since 2008, through characters who are real, funny, sympathetic, tough, proud, and ultimately courageous. This is a great play for high school students and older. It runs in the Morrison Theatre at Artists Rep through September 30.

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  • Rebecca says:

    I agree, especially your comment about characters being courageous. It’s the kind of play I like, authentic, strong characters and it makes me reflect.

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