Dobama Theatre’s ‘Skeleton Crew’ is a gritty portrayal of factory existence that talks shop

Intense, dramatic, fierce, stressing and not a little depressing...these are the feelings you may take with you upon seeing the Dobama Theatre production of Dominique Morrisseau’s Skeleton Crew. It is the winter of 2008 in Detroit, Michigan and the beginning of what will be known as the Great Recession as major manufacturing plants all across America begin to shut down.

In one of the last of the small auto plants in Detroit, four of the few remaining plant employees gather in their run down break room between shifts where they trade gossip, hassle one another, gamble and argue on the lost power of the once strong union. Rumor has it that the plant will be closing down by the end of the year.

Each employee is at a vulnerable time of their life.

Faye (Lisa Louise Langford) is the union rep and cancer survivor who recently lost her lesbian partner. Having been at the factory for 29 years and just one year away from a pension, she is a fixture who claims, “The walls talk to me...I’m in the vents. I’m in the bulletin boards. I’m in the chipped paint. Ain’t nobody can slip through the cracks past me up in here. I can see through lockers.”

Shanita (Mary-Francis Miller) is unmarried and pregnant but fiercely determined to do a job that she is very proud of. She has been offered a manager’s position at a copy center which she turned down because, “my touch...my special care...it matter. I’m building something that you can see come to life at the end.” She also wants nothing to do with her co-worker Dez seeing him only as a “player.”

Dez (Robert Hunter) is a highly skilled dependable worker who is constantly getting into trouble for his casual relationship with the many rules posted around the plant and break room. He needs one more year of overtime in order to fulfill his dream of opening an auto repair shop. He cares deeply about Shanita and is hurt by her rebuffs.

Reggie (Ananias J. Dixon) is the trio’s boss. He is the son of Faye’s closest friend (now deceased) and was given the white collar job on Faye’s recommendation. He has been given the secret by management about the upcoming closure and seeks counsel from Faye while forcing her to keep the secret as well.

Each of these workers are at the point in their lives where they could do their jobs in their sleep. It is only when they leave the dusty thundering work area and retreat back to the cold dingy break room they are able to regain a portion of their humanity. Each one of them are rebels in their own right. Faye is hiding a secret about her current habitat status as well as her gambling addiction and her against the posted rules against cigarette use. Shanita is fiercely independent and while the one with the best prospects could still end out on the streets at a moments notice. Dez is bending the rules so hard that the spring back could destroy his plans and Reggie having just bought a new house and started a family has the most to lose of the four. Each of them is walking a razor edge.

While there are moments of humor it is biting at best and when conflict takes over the break room the gloves are off and the claws revealed. The artistry of the actors is that they are able to convince the audience to actually like them and care about what will happen in their future which in the depressed economic environment that became Detroit (and many other major cities in the United States) the outlook is grim indeed.

Regardless, it is an honest portrayal of real people with resiliance dealing with real issues and the combination of a rich plot and superb acting combines to provide a solid although disturbing evening of entertainment. The show is aptly directed by Nina Dominque-Glover.

The dusty, grimy stage set by Aaron Benson is a master class in depression which shows its brilliance. It is chock full of gritty details designed to sadden the viewer and set the scene even before the actors emerge.

This is no Pollyanna rainbows and ribbons production but a stark dose of reality about the decline of America’s manufacturing might as portrayed by the survivors who held on until the last. In spite of the grim details there is still a faint breath of hope in the end.

Skeleton Crew runs through February 16, 2020 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. For tickets and information visit www.dobama.org or call (216) 932-3396.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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