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.