PlayMakers Rep will stage Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew Oct. 10-12, 14, 16-21, and 23-28 in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Paul Green Theatre
PlayMakers Repertory Company has always been committed to presenting distinctive voices and world views on its stage. It’s fitting then that the company has chosen to stage Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew,” a play, under the direction of Valerie Curtis-Newton, that turns its sharp view onto a small group of people working in a dwindling auto stamping plant in Detroit near the start of the Great Recession.
Via Jan Chambers’ crumbling, somewhat dilapidated breakroom set, viewers are introduced into the harsh but honest worlds of four key characters. There’s Reggie (Samuel Ray Gates), the boss who is trying to keep his employees in line but maintain his view of them as real people at the same time. There’s also rough-around-the-edges Dez (Alex Givens), who has big dreams for the future and a somewhat rebellious nature that may stand in his way. Equally rebellious is long-time worker Faye (Kathryn Hunter-Williams), who holds the whole crew, including pregnant, intelligent, and oh-so-sassy Shanita (Shanelle Nicole Leonard), together.
As these characters live and breathe onstage, it soon becomes obvious that Morisseau has not skimped in character development. Each of her characters is strong in their own right, well-written, and thoroughly believable and engaging, despite their imperfections. Her characters also share a genuine warmth and chemistry that enables each one to be all the more likeable.
Viewers get up close and personal with the struggles, signs and rules, and hardships that make up the lives of these characters. Gritty and honest, their conversations, featuring perfectly written and paced dialogue are not the stuff of fairy tales. But, they are very real and do a thorough job of representing an often underrepresented, at least in a real way, population.
While the characters’ complexity, struggles, and day to day conversations would be enough on their own, Morisseau ups the intensity by having Reggie reveal to Faye that the plant will soon be closing. Both of them now burdened by this knowledge, their interactions with the other characters become even more intense and fascinating to watch.
Hunter-Williams makes for a wonderfully stubborn, strong-willed Faye, one whom the audience is sure to root for. She is backed by Givens’ surprisingly sweet and charming portrayal of Dez and Leonard’s standout performance as Shanita. Leonard takes a character who could easily fade into the background or provide mere comic relief if not portrayed correctly and makes her one of the most important and binding characters in the play. Likewise, Gates does much with his role, creating a “boss” who is multi-layered, multi-dimensional, and surprisingly vulnerable.
From its climactic first-act ending all the way to the revealing, bittersweet end, this production invites viewers into a small corner of the world and asks them to reflect on what they see there. Dancing gracefully with themes of poverty, loss, work, self-value, and identity as related to career, Morisseau has put together an interesting and unforgettable tableau, brought beautifully to life by Curtis-Newton and crew.
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