Here, I feel like I’m building somethin’ important. Love the way the line needs me. Like if I step away for even a second and don’t ask somebody to mind my post, the whole operation has to stop. My touch…my special care….it matter. I’m building something that you can see come to life at the end. Got a motor in it and it’s gonna take somebody somewhere.
So rhapsodizes a Detroit auto worker in playwright Dominique Morisseau’s poignant comedic drama, Skeleton Crew. Set in the breakroom of a stamping plant in 2008, Ms. Morisseau achieves a high level of dramatic writing with this well observed exploration of Black working-class life. Each of the short scenes is perfectly crafted, imparting exposition, plot points and narrative momentum. Morisseau also has created four vivid, appealing and humane characters who speak her authentically rich dialogue and who are majestically performed.
As Faye, a feisty cigarette smoking lesbian gambler who is close to officially retiring after nearly 30 years, Phylicia Rashad is monumental. With her expressive voice and commanding physical presence, Ms. Rashad is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking as we learn of this mother hen’s hard upbringing and troubled life that includes an estranged son. Faye is also a union representative and so Rashad delivers several stirring pro-labor reveries. These are especially potent as there are rumors that the plant is going to close in the coming year with the workers inevitably getting short-changed.
As Dez, a combative gun-toting man in his late 20’s who is saving up to buy his own garage, the charismatic Joshua Boone offers a powerful portrait of a striver battling adversity. Chanté Adams’ vivacious portrayal of the soon-to- be single mother Shanita, delightfully combines spunkiness, girlishness and optimism. Though often sparring, Mr. Boone and Ms. Adams have a warm and romantic vibe at times.
Reggie, the conflicted plant supervisor owes his career to Faye who was his late mother’s best friend and who helped get him a job after he dropped out of high school, is animatedly played by Brandon J. Dirden. With his passionate vocal delivery, sad eyes and strong bearing, Mr. Dirden effortlessly projects the anxieties of a company man internally embattled between obligations to employer and his workers. When recounting a clash with a superior over a moral issue, Dirden’s virtuous thunder is like out of an Arthur Miller play.
Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, an acclaimed actor himself and appeared earlier this season in his own Lackawanna Blues, inspires depth, camaraderie and electricity among his fine cast while expertly tending to the physical production. Scene transitions are punctuated by Nicholas Hussong’s exciting and artful projection design of Detroit locales. This is accompanied by Jimmy Keys AKA “J. Keys” and Robert Kaplowitz’s bold hip-hop-themed original music, which is realized by Robert Kaplowitz’s deft sound design. Lighting designer Rui Rita provides shimmering hues to these portions and stark realism to the dramatic ones. These sequences are further enhanced by the joyous Adesola Osakalumi who superbly dances his impressive choreography while wearing costume designer Emilio Sosa’s representative blue collar labor wear. Scenic designer Michael Carnahan’s detailed shabby breakroom is ideal.
Produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, Skeleton Crew was first presented Off-Broadway by the Atlantic Theatre Company in 2016 in a production directed by Santiago-Hudson. It’s part of Morisseau’s Detroit Project trilogy which includes 2014’s Detroit ’67 and 2015’s Paradise Blue. By the conclusion of this Broadway premiere, one has experienced a great American play.
Skeleton Crew (through February 20, 2022)
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission