By Tulis McCall
Skeleton Crew is a total pleasure. A welcomed one.
I don’t know how or why – I suspect is is the isolation of Covid kicking in – but I am jaded about theater these days. Is it worth risking my health, and perhaps my life, to sit in a theatre elbow to elbow next to strangers who may or may not turn their phones off, who may or may not have those tiny little candies that come individually wrapped in crinkled paper, who may or may not remember that theatre is not the same as the movies so explaining the story is heard not only by the audience but by the actor says well.
And if any or all of the above happens, is it worth my safety to ask the guilty party to power down, or take those little candies and shove them, or just shut up period?
You see the dilemma here.
Therefore how grateful was I that I was so captivated by Skelton Crew that I over looked the above mentioined (and it was happening) and handed the problem off to the theater spirits, who took care of everything.
The theatre spirits had already handled the major element. Skeleton Crew arriving at Manhattan Theatre Club.
The time is 2008, the place Detroit and the exact location is a small factory that produces something that has to do with autos. The stew of problems surrounding this oasis of a worker’s break room is monumental. Factories in the area are closing, neighbors are moving out, banks are claiming properties, and the streets are dangerous. Dominique Morisseau is a meticulous writer. She has created characters that have secrets and wisdom, lies and truths, big joys and overwhelming pain. Faye (Phylicia Rashad) has been at this factory 29 years and knows not only every person on the premises, but what they are up to and where they are minding their business. Dez (Joshua Boone) is a young man with dreams, who does not mind helping himself to a little bit here and there. Shanita (Chanté Adams) is a woman who has found her stride and her place working the line and has few doubts that she will be able to care for her soon to be born child on her own. Reggie (Brandon J. Dirden) is the guy in middle management who got there on the strength of Faye’s word and who now is walking the very fragile line between the folks upstairs who want to cut their losses and the folks downstairs who want to be protected. Each of these people is dangerous when cornered, make no mistake.
Morisseau creates an astonishing first act. These characters vie for their place, claiming their own selves while keeping an eye out for one another at the time. Though they may not admit it, their loyalty to one another is fierce, and Rashad in particular has a watchful eye that never rests and an ear that is always at attention. When push comes to shove in the workers vs. management tussle, it lands directly on Reggie’s head. It is he who cracks – in a brilliant monologue delivered by DIrden – and at the same time stands tall. A shattering moment.
The conclusion of the story flags a little. Too many questions left unanswered and too many details left unexplained. Great first acts are often hard to follow. What stays with you, however, are these characters who have ripped open their hearts and minds and laid everything out on the table as gifts to us. That humanity, the line from their hearts to ours is a direct shot. Under the guidance of Morisseau and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, these fine actors aim for the bulls-eye and do not waste time circling around the target.
This is theatre that reminds you why theater is the closest thing to hallowed ground we have. These actors are daredevils living life without a net, and letting us in on the free fall.
Get over there and grab some of this goodness.
PS – Morriseau gets the award for Best Author’s Note EVER.
Skeleton Crew – by Dominique Morisseau, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
WITH Chanté Adams, Joshua Boone, Brandon J. Dirden, Adesola Osakalumi, and Phylicia Rashad.
Michael Carnahan (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design), Rui Rita (lighting design)
Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director and Barry Grove, Executive Producer) Broadway premiere of Skeleton Crew, written by Tony Award nominee Dominique Morisseau and directed by Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). TICKETS