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Play Review: 'Skeleton Crew' Depicts Plight of Detroit's Working Class

by Todd A. Smith

 

Candice D’Meza, David Rainey, Brandon J. Morgan and Lizan Mitchell (L-R) star in the Alley Theatre’s production of “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morisseau (Photo Credit: Lynn Lane).

 

 

Ain’t No Joke

 

 1/2


The real world ain’t no joke.


Working hard for the money always brings a certain degree of self-respect. But what happens when the person signing the checks does not have any respect for his or her employees?


Sure, employers claim to love their workers when the profit margins break records and remain high, but when those profits turn to losses, many employers do not have a problem if their employees lose everything.


In Detroit, working-class citizens have gone to hell and back with the closing of so many automobile factories, and the new play “Skelton Crew,” playing at Houston’s Alley Theatre captures the loss of dignity and purpose that working-class people endure when they think they will soon lose their jobs.


“Skeleton Crew” centers around four employees of a plant that makes parts for automobiles.


The factory is not a part of the big three carmakers, but those types of factories build the parts for the automobile makers.


In “Skeleton Crew,” Faye is the elder statesman of the crew that gathers together in the break room before work and during lunch breaks to gamble, smoke and complain about their bosses.


Faye has spent 29 years at the factory.


However, she wants to at least work one more year because the retirement package for an employee with 30 years experience is much more lucrative than the package for a worker that has only 29 years of experience.


Faye has seen everything that the industry has to offer, for better or for worse.


She has seen the economic surpluses and the economic downturns.


Faye has seen how dangerous the picket lines can become, serving as the union representative for her factory.


And she has seen how a good and respectable job can turn someone’s life around.


Faye got pregnant as a teenager and since her mother came from the real old school, Faye had to leave the house because society frowned upon unwed mothers at that time.


Working at the factory took Faye from homeless to successful.


And the wisdom that she has gained based on her past experiences is what Faye wants to impart into her younger colleagues.


In “Skeleton Crew,” Shanita (Candice D’ Meza) seems a bit out of place at the factory.


Shanita looks like the type of person to have a job wearing a pants suit and sitting in a cubicle.


However, she has always loved working with her hands and she is great at it.


Her father always wanted a son, but got a girl who could outwork the boys instead.


Shanita’s work record remains impeccable even if she has to work with colleagues with less than impeccable character.


Her colleague/serial sexual harasser Dez (Brandon J. Morgan) loves the work that he does at the factory just like Faye and Shanita.


However, Dez has bigger dreams than just remaining an employee for a big corporation.


He wants to work as much overtime as possible so he can save enough money to open his own garage.


Dez almost has enough saved and if he can work a little more overtime he will have enough to see his dreams come true.


Unfortunately, some of the means Dez uses to get his future garage situated seem a little shady.


And living in the rougher parts of Detroit, combined with has shady business tactics, forces him to carry a gun on him at all times.


Although the factory has a lot of rules, like not smoking or gambling on the premises, one would think that an employer would not have to inform their employees that bringing a gun to work will probably end badly.


However, Dez is not the regular employee and he does not have the regular boss/subordinate relationship with his supervisor, Reggie (David Rainey).


At one time Reggie worked on the factory lines with Dez, Faye and Shanita, but thanks to the hookup, he now works as supervisor, wearing a necktie and button-up shirts.


Nevertheless, his heart remains with the factory line workers because of all of the years he spent doing manual labor.


So when rumors begin to swirl around the factory that the business will shut down like many other factories in Detroit, Reggie feels like he has to fight for his employees if the rumors turn out to be true.


“Skeleton Crew” is well written, well acted and it resonates.


However, the storyline in the Dominique Morisseau written play is not exciting enough.


Morisseau’s dialogue is on point and the play is well casted, but something is missing.


Maybe a little more action is needed.


Maybe a little more devastation is needed.


But “Skeleton Crew” does need something added to take the play to the next level. 


Despite missing ingredients, the cast has all of the ingredients to have great careers in acting.


Although Faye’s character was a bit preachy, her pain is palpable.


Additionally, Dez’s character had the right amount of Detroit swag from the Detroit Tigers hat, Timberlands and bomber jackets to the street savvy, mixed with the right amount of compassion.


Dez is not a choirboy.


But he is also not a thug or criminal.


He is a product of his environment and just wants to do whatever it takes to survive.


Reggie character is the most conflicted.


The company blessed him with a promotion, but he remains torn between the people he works for now and the people he worked with in the past.


Reggie’s character represents survivor’s remorse.


He wants to succeed in life.


Reggie is proud of the life his new promotion has given his young family.


But he feels guilty that his success has not trickled down to his former colleagues.


Although he is comfortable in his career, how can he take solace in that knowing that his friends stand on shaky ground?


And Shanita should be enjoying the best days of her life because she is respected on the job and will soon welcome her first child.


However, a no-good baby daddy and not-so-good and stable job make these joyous days more stressful than it should be.


But it is the familiarities of the characters that will make “Skeleton” resonate with some audience members.


In life, people sometimes fly high in April, but get shot down in May.


Life is real and the real world ain’t no joke.

 

“Skeleton Crew” runs through Oct. 7 at Houston’s Alley Theatre.



REGAL RATINGS

FOUR CROWNS=EXCELLENT

THREE CROWNS=GOOD

TWO CROWNS=AVERAGE

ONE CROWN=POOR

This article was published on Friday 14 September, 2018.
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