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'A Strong, Formidable Work:' Detroit-Focused Play Was a Hit at New York Debut


September 28, 2017, 7:12 AM by  Alan Stamm

The economic pain and social strain of uncertain auto industry employment will be dramatized on a Detroit stage.

"Skeleton Crew," the third play in an acclaimed trilogy by local dramatist Dominique Morisseau, comes to Detroit Public Theatre for four weeks. The two acts are set in the break room of a small Detroit stamping plant in the winter of 2008. Times are tough and getting tougher. Shifts are being cut and everyone is a paycheck or two away from the streets.

The drama earned New York City critics' applause at its debut last year, when Variety praised "rough-edged dialogue [that] even has a touch of the street poet." (Four review excerpts are below.)

"Skeleton Crew," which starts regular performances Saturday after two nights of public previews, launches the young theater's third season.

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Dominique Morisseau: The playwright is a Cass Tech High graduate, as are the lead actors shown above.

Amid signs of possible foreclosure, "power dynamics shift and the co-workers are pushed to the limits of survival," a promotional blurb says. Four African-American workers must decide how to move forward if the factory fails:

  • Shanita, a second-generation line worker, has to support herself and her unborn child.
  • Faye, a union representative who has been on the line 29 years, has hit bhgard times. "One minute you passin’ the woman on the freeway holdin' up the 'will work for food' sign. Next minute, you sleepin' in your car," she says.
  • Dez wants to open a body shop and is just a few months of overtime away from buying his own garage.
  • Their recently promoted foreman, Reggie, is torn between doing right by his work family and by management.

"When the line between blue collar and white collar gets blurred," says the Detroit theater's synopsis, "how far over the line are they willing to step?"

The theater in the Fisher Music Center (the Detroit Symphony's home on Woodward), earlier staged "Detroit '67" -- No. 1 in the Cass Tech graduate's hometown cycle. (Her third drama is "Paradise Blue,"  first produced in 2015.) Morisseau, a University of Michigan alumna (2000), is 39 and lives in New York.

Detroit's production stars Brian Marable as Reggie and Ella Joyce as Faye -- both also native Detroiters with Cass Tech diplomas. Joyce, with a long list of stage and screen credits, lives in Burbank, Calif. 

Shawntay Dalon, another hometown talent who's a regular on the Comedy Central series "Detroiters," returns to Detroit Public Theatre as Shanita. (She was in last year's cast of "Dot.")  

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Cass Tech grads Brian Marable and Ella Joyce star in "Skeleton Crew." (Photo by Chuk Nowak)

 

Morisseau's gritty drama ("strong language, adult themes") runs two hours and earned positive reviews for its off-Broadway debut in New York last year. Excerpts:

► "This warm-blooded, astute and beautifully acted four-character drama . . . [explores] questions that to some degree haunt everybody in those Darwinian jungles where we fight for our paychecks. . . . This production gently confounds expectations. . . . What surprises is how the script always stops short of melodrama." -- The New York Times

► "This playwright has heart, along with a sense of historical moments that define the lives of ordinary Americans. Her rough-edged dialogue even has a touch of the street poet." -- Variety

► "With an economy of words, Morisseau sets up a host of storylines battling for our attention. . . . The drama on display takes on the aura of inevitable tragedy. The choices don’t seem to be between right and wrong but between bad and worse. Morisseau’s play is unquestionably a strong, formidable work . . . and one theatergoers won’t want to miss." -- Huffington Post

► "'Skeleton Crew' is anything but conventional. Like Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson before her, Morisseau creates characters who don't merely speak, they sing with the vernacular of their community. Rarely has dialogue ever felt so much like eavesdropping on an actual conversation." -- TheaterMania

How to attend

  • Performances: Sept. 28-29 previews ($20-$35); Sept. 30-Oct, 29 (Wednesdays-Sundays).
  • Times: Wednesday, 10 a.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 21, 2 p.m.
  • Tickets (all open seating): Wed.-Fri., $35; weekend matinees, $40; Saturday nights, $45; under 35, $20; over 60, $30; group (10 or more), $25.

This one-minute trailer shows the original New York cast:


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