BWW Review: SKELETON CREW at Baltimore Center Stage is Gripping Theatre
Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah is well aquainted with playwright Dominique Morisseau. He directed the original production of SKELETON CREW at the Lark Play Development Center as well as the world premiere of Morisseau's DETROIT '67 for The Public Theatre in New York which was also done at Center Stage during the 2015/16 season. Look for Morisseau's next venture on Broadway. It will be a musical AIN'T TOO PROUD based on the work of The Temptations.
So it is no surprise that SKELETON CREW was chosed for Kwei-Armah's last season at Baltimore Center Stage. And what a brilliant choice it has been.
Making her Center Stage debut is Director Nicole A. Watson and has assembled a superb cast and does a remarkable job presenting this thought-provoking work.
The play deals with the plight of unions and reminded me of the Lynn Nottage Pulitzer Prize winning play SWEAT which was done at Arena Stage and on Broadway. Coincidentally Baltimore's Everyman Theatre just did a reading of the play a few days ago.
While SWEAT dealt with the closing of a plant in Reading, PA, here the locus is automobile assembling plant in Detroit circa 2008 before the collapse of the auto industry there.
A "skeleton crew" has been defined as "the bare minimum of employees necessary to keep a business running at a basic level. That is what three employees are as they contemplate their certain demise in the near future.
The "crew" here is composed of the 29 year veteran of the plant, "Faye" (Stephanie Berry) who nails the part of the matriarch. Her work includes sewing car interiors and stamping car doors (google it see how it is to do this tough assignment). She adds, "Stamping doors is not for sissys." She also serves as the union representative, is a chain smoker, but her undoing may be due to a dangerous gambling habit.
There is the second generation worker and very pregnant 25 year-old "Shanita" (Brittany Belizeare) who even in her current situation is still recognized as a superb worker. You will melt at her infectious smile. She is thinking of leaving the plant to manage a copy center. At one point after she admits to an incident of "road rage" and threw a chocolate frosty at the side of a car. "Faye" advises ,Take a "yoga class and calm yo'ass down".
Then there is "Dez' (Gabriel Lawrence), an inner city veteran of the street who has a heart of gold, has dreams of opening up his own business one day, and demonstrates his infatuation with "Shanita". "Dez" is a very complex character and Lawrence is certainly up to the task.
Then there is forman "Reggie" (Sekou Laidlow) who knows of the auto plant's impending demise and must deal with sheets of steel being stolen from the plant. He is middle-management, is proud to wear a tie to work but must walk the line as a friend of the crew at the same time as listneing to his hard-line superiors.
There are so many great lines in the play. One of the best has "Reggie" telling "Faye", You walk around with your manhood on the line cuz you never know who's gonna take it from you cuz you never know when you're going to be the next one out here, desparate and needin' to feed your family by any means necessary."
He has a history with "Faye" who had a strong relationship with his mother and "Faye" is regarded as a member of the family. This certainly complicates matters. Laidlow gives a superb performance.
"Faye" gives a powerful talk to "Reggie" and says, "One minute you passin' the woman on the freeway holding up the "will work for food" sign and next minute, you sleepin in your car...
The action takes place entirely in a break room where the employees each has a locker, where they eat and drink coffee (normally made by "Faye"), and reminisce about the trials and tribulations of their work and the prospect of the plant closing.
This is a compelling production and should not be missed.
After the show I couldn't help singing the 1981 Union anthem "Look for the union label, when you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse."
SKELETON CREW runs until March 4, 2018. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org and for information about Talk Backs with local labor unions who will share their working-class viewpoints.