Review: In ‘Skeleton Crew,’ Do the heavy lifting quickly

The structure of the joke is perfect: A 60-year-old woman in the hot break room of a metal stamping factory lights a cigarette under a sign that says “No smoking Faye” – the “Faye” part is handwritten in big and angry letters .

Of course, as we soon find out, she To be Faye.

So begins “Skeleton Crew”, a play by Dominique Morisseau that in examining the ways we must sometimes break the rules, not break itself. It is cleverly constructed and written – and, in production of the Manhattan Theater Club premieres Wednesday, beautifully choreographed and acted – so much so that you barely have time to decide, until it’s been two hours, whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy. dramatic. Even then, as in life, you may not know for sure.

Start with Faye, who has worked at the factory for 29 years; she intends to continue until the age of 30, her pension increases significantly. As played by Phylcia Rashad in a stunning performance, clad in a flannel shirt, oversized jeans, work boots and a look of sour satisfaction, she looks like she’s going to have her life tightly controlled – and, As the union representative and aunt of the break room, her co-workers’ life too. Drawing on their wisdom and correcting their foolishness, she models character and independence, even when, as “Skeleton Crew” in an opportune moment reveals, the two come into conflict. .

You could call Faye’s specialty, like the play, clarity of moral ambiguity. And in Detroit in 2008, with the national economy on fire (as one television news clip tells us) and the auto industry in particular collapsing, there was a lot of ambiguity about surrounding ethics.

For Reggie, the unit director and author of the no-smoking sign, the pressure was almost overwhelming. With the burden of knowing in advance that the factory would be closed for the year, he had to keep productivity high as workers were let go. But despite his tie and white collar, he’s still a blue-collar spirit, and Awesome Brandon J. Dirden shows how the conflicting pressures of work and community squeeze him as he tries to protect the remaining skeleton crew.

In addition to Faye, that crew includes Shanita (Chanté Adams) and Dez (Joshua Boone), who are both under 30 and therefore have more (or less?) to lose than Faye. Theirs is a classic “B plot,” but the humorous and romantic contrast their story offers is more complicated than its bald structural purpose suggests.

Yes, Dez has long had a crush on Shanita, who is pregnant with another man. Sweetly, he rides her car every day; sourly, she even let him. But both have existential anxieties that intertwine and deepen the larger issues of the play. How can Shanita raise a child alone if the foundation of confidence – her work – crumbles beneath her? How will Dez survive in a world that considers his labor no less than his existence as consumable? (Although all four characters are Black, the subject of racism is often brought up rather than a theme.)

These questions seem unlikely to be satisfactorily answered when, with perfect timing, a gun appears in the picture.

In fact, some of the plot devices, neat similarities, and red strings are, like Faye, a bit unwieldy. But that doesn’t stop them from working; really, it’s a pleasure to surrender to classic craft techniques. While you can certainly feel Morisseau’s debt to August Wilson in her play – “Skeleton Crew” is part of the series. trilogy set in Detroit, as Wilson has got his Pittsburgh Wheel – you also feel the raw effect of Ibsen’s plays and the finest television procedures.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s staging at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, improves in many ways above the movie he directed for Atlantic Theater Company in 2016, making the most of the larger space and stellar new cast. Michael Carnahan’s setting, expanding in the grit on his previous version, turns dirt into a sort of pulp poetry, from peeling linoleum to succulents trying to survive in a door The window is almost blurred. Emilio Sosa’s outfits offer both psychology and sociology even within a limited range of sartart gestures: a “Juicy” sweater for Shanita, a fleece sweater-vest for Reggie.

I am less convinced, as is the case in the city centre, by the alternation of waving and waving (choreographed and performed by Adesola Osakalumi), along with predictions by Nicholas Hussong, hint at the harsh and repetitive labor that takes place outside the break room. Instead of enhancing our understanding of the characters, these dance moments, while astonishing, seem unrelated and non-specific, soften the play’s insistence on judging people. work, not just work.

At its remarkable best, “Skeleton Crew” practices that preaching; Its characters are not just building blocks in a moral story but a joy for the actors to perform and thus for the audience to experience. Especially in the scenes between Faye and Reggie, when Rashad and Dirden use every tool they’ve used on stage over the years, you can’t take your eyes off the many things they’re doing at once. Colleagues, contempt, fear, affection – and a shared history saved for late disclosure – all come into play. What comes out of it is an abundance of excellent performance.

If the play itself is sometimes too rich, it is not to be underestimated. Real things are at stake for characters who expect a worthy reward for labor and loyalty. Their expectations are so rudely disappointing that it’s harder to do the right thing in a world that isn’t, and tragedy can easily ensue.

Perhaps the last thing that advises “Skeleton Crew” in the other direction is the way it removes skepticism in favor of connection. Though Faye at one point said “I follow no rules but necessity,” it turns out – in a surprise that eventually turns completely into a surprise – that necessity is sometimes a word. synonymous with love.

Skeleton screw
Through February 20 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in Manhattan; Running time: 2 hours. Review: In ‘Skeleton Crew,’ Do the heavy lifting quickly

Fry Electronics Team

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