Broadway Black was in attendance Thursday night for the opening of Dominique Morisseau‘s Skeleton Crew. Following a sold out run at Atlantic Stage 2, the show with its original cast returns to Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. The show, which is Morisseau’s third play in her Detroit trilogy, follows a family of auto plant workers who deal with the possibility of their plant closing its doors for good. Power dynamics come into play, loyalties are tested and some will do whatever it takes to survive. This past week we celebrated the birthday of some of the greatest black playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and last month August Wilson, I’d say with works like Skeleton Crew, Domonique Morisseau is a love child of the two and is setting up a legacy of her own. Her writing is sharp, filled with rich dialogue, as the characters literally come to life in front of you. As I watched, I felt that I was transported to Detroit in 2008, due to the strong writing of her work and the excellent performances by the amazing cast of four.
The show opens with a dancer (Adesola Osakalumi), billed in the playbill as Performer, who makes appearances throughout the show and his movements are mechanical to go along with the sound and projection visuals, it only adds to the whole experience, as all of our senses are filled up within the first 5 minutes of the show. Under the direction of the brilliant Ruben Santiago-Hudson, we are in for a night of amazing theatre.
As we are introduced to the characters one by one, it’s clear that Faye is the heart and soul of the auto plant. Faye (the impeccable Lynda Gravatt), is the “do what she wants” matriarch, and she pretty much can because she’s been working at the factory longer the most of them have been alive. From her bedazzled Obama sweatshirt that I think every black mother and grandmother snagged in 2008, (costume designer Paul Tazewell did such an amazing job, here) she was the engine that kept the whole train going. I’m almost positive everyone knows a Faye, and even at my age I found myself relating to her the most. A hardworking woman that just wanted the best for the people she worked with, the people she loves but rarely asked for help. Owning the title of superwoman, when in reality sometimes you have to understand can’t do everything on your own. She holds secrets, tells you what you don’t want to hear but need to, and her impact on her co-workers and boss is felt throughout the entire show.
Characters like Dez (Jason Dirden), the ambitious bad boy with a heart of gold. Great intentions, but not always the best methods for carrying those out. Shanita (Nikiya Mathis) second generation, no-nonsense worker who feels like her work at the factory is the only thing that she’s good at. She works tirelessly while pregnant and fighting off Dez’s advances and finds the upmost pride in her work. Then there is Reggie (Wendell B. Franklin), the conflicted manager. Caught between doing what’s best for his workers while still trying to please those in positions higher than him.
I’d say for this show, my ignorance truly showed. I never thought much about factory careers honestly, because we’ve been so ingrained to look down on them. Unless you were the one’s making decisions, no one cared what happened on the floor. This play really takes us inside of the lives of the people who literally piece everything together. On the outside this work is just blue collar, working class but to these workers it was everything. While each of them had different reasons for working at the auto plant, each story added to the development of their character and made me invest in them much more as an audience member. What’s such a pleasure to watch, is how Morisseau is able to capture so many complex and layered relationships within the span of the two-hour show. There is the mentor-mentee, mother-children, brother-brother, even a touch of romance and sexual tension.
There’s a moment when Reggie is constantly questioned about his loyalties to the people he works for. Dez vents after an intense altercation with Reggie “once someone made up their mind about you, there is nothing I can do to change it” a concept that is even more prevalent today. In a day and age where there are a number of shootings of young innocent black and brown children and adults alike whose lives were taken due to assumptions. The assumptions are on both ends, both Reggie and Dez have preconceived notions about each other and it’s this moment that blurs the lines between what is white collar and blue collar. While Reggie is wearing business suits and meeting with HR he still has a lot to lose, his position as manager doesn’t make him any different from Dez in the eyes of other people. A message that Reggie will have to eventually learn the hard way.
Ultimately, all of these characters are doing what it takes to survive, as black men in America, as a single-mother, as blue-collar workers that are undervalued and sometimes unappreciated, they are doing what it takes to survive. This was a story about loss, hope, and survival which I believe personally sums up what it’s truly like to be a working class citizen in America. For these characters it wasn’t about the “American Dream” it was them living out their own dreams, and for them the factory and the people in it were enough.
Skeleton Crew runs until June 19th and the Linda Gross Theater, you can purchase tickets here.