Phylicia Rashad and Chanté Adams star in Skeleton Crew by playwright Dominique Morisseau. The show is now playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (by Manhattan Theatre Club).
Skeleton Crew takes place in an auto plant in Detroit as four workers navigate suspicions of theft, the company’s forthcoming shutdown, and their own life’s struggles, all under one industrial roof.
Phylicia Rashad, who’s no stranger to Broadway (A Raisin in the Sun), enters the stage while lighting a cigarette, wearing baggy jeans, layered thermals and plaid, with a bandana on her head. Her comedy sets the tone with one of the opening lines: “I’m the elder up in here. Bow down.” Rashad’s delivery sends the audience into an early laughing spell, which is the first of many as she portrays the mysterious and wise character named Faye. She’s spent 29 years with the auto plant company, and she never fails to mention it!
No sooner does the remainder of the quartet make their respective entrances with their own brand of comedy, opposite the difficult 1967 Detroit.
Joshua Boone (Holler If Ya Hear Me) plays Dez, the hard-working man with the plan who also has a lot to hide, or so it seems. If he’s not making coffee while jamming, or flirting with Shanita, Dez is going through great lengths to prove a point, no matter the risk. Between the pressure of the local crime and the auto plant cracking down on the rules, Dez’s emotions are up and down, sometimes sweet and philosophical, other times combative and reckless.
Shanita, played by Chanté Adams (A Journal for Jordan) comes marching in and heads straight for the rust-colored fridge. She’s a soon-to-be-mother who takes pride in her work and loves how the line needs her. She has no plans to join any other industry though her position is also at stake. Even her dreams, which we should take as prophecies, reveal her great passion for the machines and the love she has for her co-workers. Whether Shanita (or any other staff) admits it is one thing, but what’s for sure is that these employees all need each other if they have any chance at survival.
Brandon J. Dirden’s performance (All the Way) as Reggie is one that really grabs the heart. At first, Reggie appears to be power hungry by endlessly posting rules and warning signs on the break room walls. But he’s also the supervisor who brings his own (maybe) personal heater for the staff and attempts to arrange their post-closure packages. With the pressure of the higher ups, to say that Reggie is on edge is an understatement. He’s looking out for his staff but at the expense of forgetting about himself. “Who am I gonna lift up if I’m broken?” he says.
Toward the end, Dirden delivers an explosive monologue when his character breaks down. The tension in each scene is just a buildup to that moment, an expression of what’s inside each of these characters who must learn to survive life and manage their own triggers. The employees used to thrive off their banter, but now they’re just as exposed as the brick that confines them.
When fighting for yourself is pit against self-sabotage, the question is raised: How do you do one without the other? Faye leaves us with this: “I do what I do until I figure out another thing and do that,” and suddenly, taking life moment by moment seems to be the most rational way of living both on and off stage!
Playwright: Dominique Morisseau
Director: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Set: Michael Carnahan
Projection design: Nicholas Hussong
Sound: Rob Kaplowitz
Music: J. Keys
Choreography: Adesola Osakalumi
Lighting: Rui Rita
Costume: Emilio Sosa
Hair: Cookie Jordan
Stage manager: Kamra A. Jacobs
For more information on showtimes and tickets, click here.