‘Skeleton Crew’ Deeply Human Drama

Review of Skeleton Crew
By Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Jade King Carroll

For tickets & schedule:
Marin Theatre Company & Theatreworks Silicon Valley
Mill Valley, CA

January 25 – February 18, 2018 (Marin Theatre Company)
March 7 – April 1, 2018 (Theatreworks Silicon Valley)

RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(Preview Performance, January 26, 2018)

Marin Theatre Company Skeleton Crew

Tensions run high during a mandatory stop and search. Faye (Margo Hall), Reggie (Lance Gardner) and Dez (Christian Thompson). Photo by Kevin Berne.

In a struggling economy, set during the 2008 Great Recession, Detroit’s infrastructure is crumbling. Factories are shutting down, leaving the former workers stranded in neighborhoods without proper police or fire departments; crime is spiking and hope failing as families lose everything.

That dark cloud permeates a small factory that has remained operational, setting nerves on edge, pushing the boundaries as to what is acceptable behavior to survive short-term, and what will ultimately become self-destructive. After being stripped of home, income, and loved ones, what is left? Is it worth crossing the line to escape?

Ed Haynes’ set design of grungy lockers, worn break room furnishings covered in duct tape patches, and dirty windows instantly evokes the feeling of a factory long past its prime, with trash shoved under scratched tables and clothes strewn about. Sound designer Karin Graybash maintains a background of distant machinery, buzzing shift notices, and everyday life, such as the percolating coffeemaker.

Skeleton Crew - Marin Theatre Company

Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) hears of the factory shutdown. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Warning signs from the supervisor plaster the walls with no smoking notices, a scrawled “Faye” underneath, introducing us to the grizzled factory worker who snorts at her name and promptly lights one up. Margo Hall’s performance amuses at first, gently revealing layers of carefully hidden pain. Her endearing stubborn exterior is packed with quirky behavior under the direction of Jade King Carroll.

Reggie (Lance Gardner), her protégé, has risen to management, placing him in the precarious situation of pleasing his supervisors in order to protect his family or giving that up to help the union members and almost mother-figure of Faye. Gardner comes across as stiff, which seems awkward until it is explained during the second act, when he is able to relax and come into his own as Reggie, with the audience cheering him on.

Skeleton Crew - Marin Theatre Company

Reggie (Lance Gardner) realizes the consequences of his outburst. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The playfully flirtatious relationship of Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) and Dez (Christian Thompson) buoys up otherwise distressing content and they represent a wide spectrum of optimism for the future. Shanita is considering her unborn child, determined to persevere, and becomes dangerously sanguine about her prospects, considering the economic reality. Dez has a pragmatic view, driven to acquire whatever he can before the world falls apart, while clinging to what is left of his pride and moral compass in the process. As the playwright points out, some personalities are drawn to be part of the destruction, others to implement restoration.

The Bay Area premiere of Skeleton Crew is a dynamic, multi-faceted exploration of humanity under pressure. Without clear-cut right and wrong, it is easy to forget how easily we could find ourselves on the other side of the table—the moment that happens, compassion is lost, and people become numbers and statistics on a ledger. Dominique Morisseau has crafted relatable, complex characters and snappy repartee for a tightly written production.

Teens n’ Training at Sonoma Arts Live

Providing opportunities for young people to explore theater and have the chance to perform has become a collaborative effort of The Theater School and Sonoma Arts Live. Local teens are able to rehearse at the school and use the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall of the Sonoma Community Center for plays such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Carrie the Musical, and the inaugural 2014 production of Rent. Jaime Love wanted to create “a program that immersed them in the craft of theater.”

EMMA! A Pop Musical

Cast of ‘EMMA! A Pop Musical’ (2017). Photo by Miller Oberlin.

Starting with a check-in before rehearsal, the group is framed with gracious and honest social interaction; Teens n’ Training encourages a supportive atmosphere. “The most important element of my teaching and directing is safety and trust between the ensemble and adults working together” explains Libby Oberlin, Education Director for Sonoma Arts Live / Teens ‘n Training and owner of The Theater School, a sentiment which she learned during her own experiences as a teenager studying the craft.

Auditions are welcome from around the Bay Area, they have had applicants from Napa and further afield, not just Sonoma County. Rather than standing awkwardly in front of a panel, attempting to perform a monologue, the Teens ‘n Training audition process involves fun theater games, more like a casual class. “I know how scary even the word ‘audition’ can be, so I hope that doesn’t sway anyone from trying out” Oberlin encourages.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ (2016). Photo by Miller Oberlin.

This year’s production is Peter and the Starcatcher, a re-imagined prequel to Peter Pan with ludicrous plot and chaotic, entertaining characters. With a strong ensemble theme, Oberlin describes it as being “fast paced, hilarious, but also…a beautiful message.”

The cast has been rehearsing four times a week since early January, and will be presenting their production March 8-18 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday. For further information on Peter and the Starcatcher and upcoming performance opportunities, visit the Teens ‘n Training website.

Multisensory Experience at the ‘Fermentation Symposium’

One year ago, an extraordinary team came together to create a multisensory theatrical experience. Mingling cuisine with music, vocal work, and dance in a cabaret setting, each course of the menu is paired with a unique presentation. Arranged by co-directors Nick Ishimaru and Kyoko Yoshida, artists were given a dish as inspiration and rehearsed on their own before combining the ensemble.

“The biggest initial challenge was how to get everyone on the same page,” Ishimaru explains. Mariko Grady of Aedan Foods led the group in preparing miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning, which they were able to bring home to ferment over the year apart, a symbol of the percolating artistry and ideas that became the performance.

Chef Eri Shimizu - Fermentation Symposium

Chef Eri Shimizu displays tofu dengaku and tamagoyaki. Photo by Megumi Konishi.

Fermented foods transition on a microscopic level, as organisms are transformed into a new set of flavors. Ishimaru feels that yugen shares a similar process, “a subtle, hidden, intangible grace, in that mysterious, invisible world.” Chef Grady confirms the importance of koji, the basis of fermented foods, which she grew up with. “I see both cooking foods and performing on stage as an art that requires creativity, skills, memory, and philosophy, so working in a combined setting of the two felt natural.”

Theatre of Yugen worked in collaboration with the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) to develop the Fermentation Symposium; Yoshida has assisted the theatre’s leadership, and the CTN facilitated bringing their “Moon of the Scarlet Plums” to Japan at the Aichi World Expo in 2005.

Yoshida describes the importance of performing arts as a cultural exchange, “arts connect people on an emotional and visceral level, which is much stronger than an intellectual level. When people share a special experience, it becomes a tie to bond, even with cultural differences.” Concepts such as diversity and social justice can be joined with a balancing connection to nature and sustainability through an understanding between Japan and the United States.

Fermentation Symposium

Mariko Grady (left) explains how koji is developed. Shinichi Iova-Koga (right) looks on. Photo by Kyoko Yoshida.

Sharp & Fine contemporary dancers, a San Francisco company founded by sisters, are contributing to the event, along with inkBoat physical theater and dance, specializing in site specific performances.

Dr. Carol Ishimaru, from the University of Minnesota, gives a scientific background on the chemical process of fermentation through her expertise in plant biology.

This collaboration is an intriguing experiment, combining the senses with a specific artistic concept. Rather than splitting out the disciplines, Theatre of Yugen has brought them into a unified piece for the audience with a delicious menu of Tofu Datemaki, Kabura-sushi, Shiokoji-chicken with root vegetables, Miso Dengaku, Zouni, Kuromame, and Amazake Dessert.


Saturday, December 30 at 4:00pm
Sunday, December 31 at 2:00pm

$20 student, $30 under 30 years old, $40 general admission, $50 VIP (free drinks)
Tickets at Theatre of Yugen
2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco (415) 621-0507

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