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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 28, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 39
ArtsWest's Skeleton Crew a deeply moving production
Arts & Entertainment
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ArtsWest's Skeleton Crew a deeply moving production

by Paul Torres - SGN A&E Writer

SKELETON CREW
ARTSWEST
Through October 14


Life in the USA changed drastically in 2008. The economy collapsed and just when all hope was lost, we found a new sense of hope again with the election of our first African-American President, Barack Obama. Yet, the wreckage from an economic downturn had repercussions all across our country. This was especially true for the automotive manufacturing industry in Detroit. Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew is a deft depiction of a small group of African-American workers in an auto stamping plant. This is from Morisseau's trilogy of plays called The Detroit Project. ArtsWest launches their 2018-2019 Beyond Ideas themed season with this deeply moving production.

At an auto stamping plant (sheet metal pressing) in Detroit 2008, the days are numbered as rumors fly about a work shutdown. A seasoned employee, Faye, who sneaks forbidden smokes in the breakroom, is the UAW rep who really knows what's up and struggles to keep the news about any closing under wraps from her two co-workers, Dez and Shanita, who have future plans. This puts her at odds with her supervisor, Reggie - a boyhood friend of her estranged son, and up against her role as a union rep.

The cozy cast gives a remarkable performance. Skeleton Crew is led by a brilliant Tracy Michelle Hughes as Faye, a hardened, proud, mama-figure (who is also a Lesbian) to the crew. Hughes absolutely succeeds at portraying this beyond the rules woman. She's a highlight of Skeleton Crew as the moral sundial with all its pinpoint accuracies and murky shadows. She's also a delight at delivering snarky lines like 'If 'ifs' were a fifth, we'd all be drunk' and spirit breaking deliveries like, 'The first thing to go be the family. Then the house. Then the car. Then the job. You know what's left after that? The soul. Then nothing. I'm running on soul.' Hughes reveals Faye's bravery and fear in this scene alone.

Rounding out the cast is a sensational Charles Wright as Dez portraying a daring debonair with charm, and a bit of hurt beneath his skin. An excellent Allen Miller III expertly plays Reggie, the supervisor made good who is engaging as a protector of his crew despite being beholden to management. Allyson Lee Brown is superb as the bright and nurturing (and pregnant) Shanita, whose character brings some levity.

Morisseau's insightful script mines the story of this beleagured crew for all its heart and soul of this beleaguered crew. She also uses Detroit-style comic wise-cracking which brings light moments to the devastating circumstances. Skeleton Crew brilliantly illustrates the automatic coping mechanism of the employees whose lives are under threat. Their struggle is real. Her script magnificently depicts an undercurrent of unspoken ferocity (a gun in a locker, acts of theft at the plant) and ebullient humility (a suburban home, a baby on the way). Morisseau gets this right.

The direction seems easy going. The plot unfolds matter-of-factly and without heavy drama. This is the masterful handiwork of director Jay O'Leary. She allows the plot to slowly exhale, therefore, giving the actors breathing space for their touching deliveries. The audience absorbs the drama that's in their lives; a job under threat and an unknown future. And who are we if we don't know our future? This existential fear permeates the story like the smoke-stained factory walls. O'Leary's direction makes for a compelling play that speaks to these times ten years after Skeleton Crew's 2008 storyline. This goes beyond nuts and bolts directing style - this is powerful storytelling.

Coming from a Michigan town where a piston ring plant shut down, I could feel the desperation of these characters. Fortunately, my father was in a position with an engineering education to find stable work again. This was not the case for many other citizens there. What replaces the plant that employs a good chunk of the town? Nothing. Where do the laid-off employees work now? Nowhere. How do they live their lives? They don't. Skeleton Crew isn't fiction; it's a true depiction of what's happening now. Morisseau's story is authentic.

For well-heeled Seattle audiences who live in a city with abundant jobs from companies that seem to have a firm foothold in the city, this play may appear to be a Rust Belt tale about the unfortunate ones. If you look beyond the grime-stained factory windows and into the breakroom with its one working heater for a cold Detroit winter shift and beyond the racket of machines whistling and slamming, you see people acting on their human instincts of survival and their struggles to maintain dignity, pride, and hope for their futures. You see that nothing is a sure bet and that no job is a sure thing. When our industrial pillars begin to rattle and crack, we realize that we are all standing on the same foundation. Skeleton Crew doesn't reveal anything new about our economic culture and how it affects minority communities, but that is precisely what makes it relevant and daring.

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