Skelton Crew by Dominique Morisseau was an Off Broadway hit. Anyone seeing the production at People’s Light directed by Steve H. Broadnax III will know why. It is a wonderful play that puts a very human face on the blue-collar workers who have been the backbone of American manufacturing. It is the third in a trilogy about Detroit, the other two being Detroit ’67 and Paradise Blue and it specifically examines the break room of a sheet metal stamping plant that produced thousands of car parts a day.
Director Broadnax said, “I believe this play is about family, and the sacrifices we make for our families—our blood family, our work family, our chosen family.” This production which is dominated by these considerations, takes place in the breakroom which is designed with great atmosphere and authenticity by Set Designer, Tony Cisek. The set also serves as a screen for Video Designer, Jerome Hopgood’s video collages that are used to separate the scenes. They pictorially tell a background story about the fading automotive industry. It touches the bigger issues while the scenes themselves deal with the smaller, more intimate issues. Lighting (Kathy Perkins), Costumes (Marla Jurglanis) and Sound Design (Curtis Craig) are all synced into the director’s vison of this beautiful production.
As good as the set is, this is a play about actors and PPL has provided the audience with a perfectly cast ensemble of four African American actors whose power and nuance captured me from the first word until the last. Reggie (Brian Marable) is the supervisor who tries to appreciate the workers but must answer to the owners. He is wonderful walking that tightrope between corporate greed and personal concern for the workers. Dez (Joshua E. Nelson) is the young dreamer who is trying to get ahead and succeed despite feeling misunderstood and judged. Shanita (Patrese D. McClain) is a young pregnant woman who relies on her dedication and attention to detail to make her irreplaceable. For her the play is about her realizing the cold hard reality of the working world.
The last member of this group is Faye (Melanye Finister) a woman who has worked in the factory for 29 years, she is as wise as she is troubled. She is the Union rep who was best friends with Reggie’s deceased mother, so she is torn between fighting for the workers and helping her friend’s son to handle the problem. All the actors are passionate and nuanced, but I must make special mention of Ms. Finister. Her character is the most complex, and she is the hub between all the other characters. She fully embraces the complexity of her situation and delivers a memorably nuanced performance. It is a case of the perfect actor in the perfect role.
It may have just been me. but Dominique Morrisseau’s work here reminds me of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. The intensity of the dialogue and the spot-on emotions provide the same kinds of insights one gets watching the best of plays.
Skeleton Crew runs until July 15th in the intimate Steinbright Stage. For tickets call 610-644-3500 or go to their website www.peopleslight.org.