If you enjoy August Wilson’s plays or any deep dive into a particular place and time, Skeleton Crew is the ideal show for you. Theatreworks has partnered with Marin Theatre Company to produce the Bay Area Premiere of one of the best-written shows this year.
Skeleton Crew follows four auto-plant employees in 2008 Detroit as they struggle with a future that looks increasingly bleak. When the group discovers that the plant plans to shut down at the end of the year, things quickly spiral out of control. Yet more than the imminent plant closure, the play is about real people and how they deal with hardships all too familiar in the country today.
Each character has unique, authentic struggles and personality traits. Tough union-liaison, Faye (played by Margo Hall) tries to quit smoking while also dealing with housing troubles. Smart, savvy Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) juggles work responsibilities and caring for her unborn child. Responsible floor-manager Reggie (Lance Gardner) tries to stay true to his roots without compromising his higher-paying position and Dez (Christian Thompson) is a warm-hearted cynic trying to keep both is pride and his job.
The actors are fantastic across the board. They breathe life and humanity into the characters while keeping them very real. Each character feels like someone you might run into on the street. While this is in part thanks to the wonderful cast, it also is in large-part thanks to Dominique Morisseau’s phenomenal script.
A Detroit native, Morisseau wanted to show her hometown in a more positive light than how it is often shown by bringing its history and people into the spotlight. She writes very plainly for her everyday characters and yet she also finds the poetic cadence of everyday speech. The words keep you hooked, even when nothing much is going on. Her characters are complex and multi-faceted as they navigate difficult but all too familiar circumstances.
Even the small break-room set adds to the drama of the show. As the show gets more and more intense, the walls seem to close in on the four characters, confining them as assuredly as their circumstances.
There are no easy answers in Skeleton Crew. It quickly becomes clear that the story is about everyday people making (sometimes flawed) decisions to survive as best they can. Throughout the show, the playwright consistently chooses to delve deep into the characters’ thoughts and motivations rather than take the easy way out of a situation. With only four characters and limited space, the action is intimate and intense, focused on why people make the decisions they do, rather than whether those decisions are right or wrong.
Skeleton Crew is an intimate look at everyday people, which focuses on the specifics of the auto industry during the recession while highlighting the emotions and becoming too melodramatic or cliché.
TheatreWorks’ production of Skeleton Crew is playing now through April 1, 2018 at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets range $40-$100 with discounts available for students, groups, educators, seniors and patrons under 35.
Photos courtesy of Kevin Berne