The Stinging Reality Of Skeleton Crew
Compelling play tells a gripping story of life in the unpredictable––and sometimes heartless––workplace
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HIGHLIGHTING a time when a rapidly collapsing economy touched everything in its path, playwright Dominique Morisseau skillfully carves out a realistic slice of 2008 Detroit in her celebrated play Skeleton Crew, running through March 3 at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. It is a bright light illuminating one of the city’s toughest periods, focusing on the devastating fallout that four workers experienced after rumors circulate that the auto plant that they have given so much to is scheduled to close within a year.
Directed by Ron OJ Parson and set in one of those dying auto plants, workers come face-to-face with the personal pain and stress often associated with the possibility of this kind of life-altering change. With the continuing downward spiral of the auto industry, they knew their jobs might not be safe, even though President Bush had given a provisional $17.4 billion bailout to General Motors and Chrysler. But day in and day out, they were hopeful that somehow the worst would not come to their door.
As is to be expected, each day the workers reflect the increasing anguish and heated tension associated with the uncertainties surrounding the possible closing of the plant and the financial crises in which they would find themselves. In the middle of the turmoil is the plant’s foreman Reggie (Kelvin Roston Jr.), a conflicted boss who is torn between implementing the company’s hard line to cut costs and his responsibilities to ensuring the well-being of the workers he supervises. His unsteady balancing act has a direct effect on the three people he manages: Dez (Bernard Gilbert), an insubordinate hothead who has issues of trust with Reggie; Shanita (Anji White), a visibly pregnant but extremely gifted worker who has to face the daily––and unwanted––romantic advances from Dez; and Faye (Jacqueline Williams), a longtime union representative who has worked at the plant for 45 years and was a friend of Reggie’s deceased mother, which created a special bond between she and Reggie. So what if management targets her in its early cost-cutting efforts? What will (or can) Reggie do?
Morriseau’s captivating story takes place entirely in the plant’s break room, which is Faye’s undisputed domain in more ways than one. It’s the place where the workers are most comfortable–-gossiping, playing cards, listening to music and laughing about the series of strategically placed, can’t-miss signs on the wall directed at one of the group’s members and designed to serve as a constant reminder: “NO SMOKING, FAYE!” But with her veteran status and defiant personality, she––in her inimitable way––scoffs at every warning.
Skeleton Crew, the third part in a cycle of Morriseau plays, is an absorbing production, preceded by Detroit ’67 and Paradise Blue, both also directed by Parson. In the most recent installment of the trio, the characters are likable, the acting is intense but compelling and the superb direction is what theatergoers would expect from an accomplished professional such as Parson. The subject matter is one that millions of workers not only recognize but have lived––or are living. For them, it’s personal––seeing themselves in a story that deals with rumored layoffs and the unsympathetic decisions of management that often signal a strong degree of loyalty to the American worker no longer exists.
With the additional skills of a creative team that includes Scott Davis (scenic design), Samantha C. Jones (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design) and Ray Nardelli (sound design), Skeleton Crew comes off as much more than a simple slice of life. It brings to the forefront a realistic look at work and how quickly it can disappear. At the same time, it reflects a much bigger picture as more people––on assembly lines and in other positions throughout the workplace––face their own personal difficulties and financial problems that are influenced by a shaky economy and hard-hearted corporate heads.
For more information and tickets, go to www.northlight.org. The theater schedule for Skeleton Crew is as follows: Wednesdays, 1 p.m. (except February 21) and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (February 25 only). Tickets are $30-$81. Student tickets are $15, any performance (subject to availability).
The cast of Skeleton Crew at Northlight Theatre includes (right to left) Kelvin Roston Jr., Jacqueline Williams, Bernard Gilbert and Anji White.
In the much talked-about play, Roston's character (above) faces off with Jacqueline Williams, and (below) he conducts a controversial search of the workers' belongings.