Sunday, January 24, 2016

Skeleton Crew ***

Dominique Morisseau has, on a smaller scale, done for Detroit what August Wilson did for Pittsburgh — chronicled the lives of some of its African-American residents over the decades. The final play in her Detroit trilogy, now at Atlantic Stage 2, is a workplace drama set in the break room of a failing auto parts plant in 2008 just as the Great Recession hits. An opening radio bulletin raises the question of how the city has fared in the 40 years since the bloody riots of 1968. We meet three workers — the crusty lesbian Faye (Lynda Gravatt), the union rep who is approaching the 30-year mark at work; Dez (Jason Dirden), a hotheaded young man with authority issues who is putting in as much overtime as possible to be able to leave and start his own garage; Shanita (Nikiya Mathis), a very pregnant second-generation worker who takes pride in her work. Their foreman Reggie (Wendell B. Franklin) got his job with Faye’s help and rose through the ranks to low-level management. Faye is secretly facing serious difficulties, some of her own making. Dez has a crush on Shakita, who has troubling dreams. We learn that Reggie’s late mother was the love of Faye’s life. Reggie is torn by divided loyalties. Management has cut back relentlessly. Supplies are disappearing in night-time thefts. The threat of closure hangs over everyone. The situations are involving and the dialogue is lively. Morisseau’s characters, brought to life by a superb cast, are easy to care about. At its best moments, it recalls August Wilson’s work. The play is greatly assisted by a first-rate production directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Michael Carnahan’s set creates a believable factory break room down to the smallest detail. Paul Tazewell’s costumes are excellent — Faye’s sequined Obama jacket speaks volumes. Rui Rita’s lighting design sets the right mood. The sound design by Robert Kaplowitz is supplemented by original songs by Jimmy “J.Keys” Keys. The breaks between scenes are marked by dance sequences choreographed and performed by Adesola Osakalumi that capture the repetitive, robotic nature of the work. Some of these interludes are punctuated by uncredited projections of the factory floor, the final one showing robots at work. I hope a brave producer mounts Morisseau’s complete trilogy soon. Running time: one hour 50 minutes including intermission.

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