“Skeleton Crew” is a slice of recession-era Detroit

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Scene from
Scene from "Skeleton Crew" at the Zella Fry Theatre in Union, NJ

Some of the most powerful, creative drama today can be found at theatres throughout New Jersey. Skeleton Crew, at Premiere Stages on the Kean University campus in Union, is the latest example of this. Playwright Dominique Morisseau has crafted a powerful work that grips an audience from the very first line and doesn’t let go until the last words have been spoken.

Scene from "Skeleton Crew" at the Zella Fry Theatre in Union, NJ
Scene from “Skeleton Crew” at the Zella Fry Theatre in Union, NJ

Morisseau’s play is set in the break room of one of Detroit’s car factories. It’s 2008, and the automotive industry has seen better days. Rumors of impending layoffs — even company closings — are heavy on everyone’s mind. Faye, the union representative and matriarch of her assembly line “family”, tries to keep her people on an even keel as fellow employees are laid off and production lines shut down.

Dez, an irrepressible wise-ass, and Shanita, unwed and expecting her first child, face an uncertain future with which their parents never had to cope. Reggie, the line supervisor, faces impossible choices between his workers’ needs and the corporation’s plans. Morriseau blends their concerns, their hopes and dreams, their triumphs and defeats, skillfully revealing details about her characters’ lives casually in their conversations, weaving a richly detailed tapestry of the recent past.

Scene from "Skeleton Crew" at the Zella Fry Theatre in Union, NJ
Scene from “Skeleton Crew” at the Zella Fry Theatre in Union, NJ

Ms. Morisseau is well-served by her director and cast. John J. Wooten, the Producing Artistic Director of Premiere Stages, skillfully guides the four-person cast through the sometimes explosively emotional story. Patricia R. Floyd gives a rock-solid performance as Faye, balancing an open and loving heart with a pragmatic mind and a steely will. Her opposite number is Shane Taylor’s Reggie, keeping the increasingly antagonistic demands of labor and management deep within until, in a volcanic emotional scene, his repressed stresses explode. Kristen Adele’s pragmatic, pregnant Shanita collides with the young, on-the-make Dez of Daniel Boisrond. This talented quartet makes you believe they’ve known each other and worked at the same place all their lives, enriching the playwright’s story.

The creative team does a fine job in turning the small stage into a well-worn break room, the kind you’d expect to find at any workplace. Credit for this goes to scenic designer Patrick Rizzotti, aided by Brant Thomas Murray’s lighting designs. Karen Lee Hart’s costumes perfectly anchor the characters to the time and location.

A powerful, outstanding play. Excellent direction and acting. A story of our times that will resonate with anyone who’s been employed. For a riveting evening of theatre, I can highly recommend Premiere Stages’ production of Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew.

Skeleton Crew is presented by Premiere Stages at the Zella Fry Theatre on the campus of Kean University in Union through July 30th, 2017. For tickets and information, visit premierestagesatkean.com.