BWW Review: Detroit Auto Workers Caught in a Web of Hard Choices in SKELETON CREW at Artists Rep
What would you do if you heard a rumor that you were about to be out of a job because the plant where you worked was about to shut down? How would that change if you were the local union rep on the brink of retirement? Or you were saving money to start your own business? Or you were pregnant and needed the healthcare? And what would you do if you were the manager being asked to find reasons to fire people so the company doesn't have to provide severance?
These are the situations Faye (Shelley B. Shelley), Dez (Vin Shambry), Shanita (Tamera Lyn), and Reggie (Bobby Bermea) - four workers at a Detroit auto plant in 2008 - face in Dominique Morisseau's SKELETON CREW, the first show of Artists Rep's 2018-2019 season. None of these questions have easy answers, especially in the broader context, in which they're to keep themselves and their families safe, and sometimes even to keep a roof over their head.
SKELETON CREW is a hard-hitting and deeply-moving play about people who are simply trying to survive in a world where the deck is stacked against them. Every day comes with a new hard choice - often between doing the right thing, the selfish thing, and the thing you're supposed to do. It's particularly tough when doing the thing you're supposed to do will hurt you or those you care about, and nearly impossible when you can't even figure out what the right thing is.
Shelley, Shambry, Lyn, and Bermea all skillfully portray their characters becoming more entwined in the web of confusing morality. At each moment, you can feel them considering their choices, and as an audience member, it's equally difficult to pinpoint what's right. Should Faye prioritize her role as union rep and organize the workers to fight for their rights? Or should she keep quiet to support Reggie, the son of the dead love of her life, as he tries to work out his own conflict - between doing what corporate tells him to in the hopes that it will lead to another job and protecting the employees he used to work alongside? There are no good choices, but choose they must.
It's an excellent play, and very well acted, but my favorite part of Artists Rep's production is the visual element created by director William Earl Ray. Between scenes, the second floor of the stage becomes a screen on which the shadows of dancers and manufacturing-themed images are projected. The short dance pieces, performed by Jeff George, Leslie North, and McKensie Rummel, explore the relationship between human and factory. It's v cool.
SKELETON CREW runs through September 30. I highly recommend it. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: David Kinder