Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Skeleton Crew
The Old Globe
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Amari Cheatom, Rachel Nicks, Brian Marable,
and Tonye Patano

Photo by Jim Cox
Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew is part of a three-play cycle about African-American lives in Detroit. It is set in 2008, as the auto industry is going through the Great Recession. The play documents how the auto industry crisis affects four individuals who work at the same plant. And yet, as The Old Globe's sensitive and ultimately eloquent production demonstrates, relationships, not jobs, are how identities are defined and lives lived.

Set in a factory break room (a utilitarian scenic design by Tim Mackabee), Skeleton Crew introduces four employees who often use the room at the same time: Shanita (Rachel Nicks), who is pregnant and determined not to let it interfere with her work; Dez (Amari Cheatom), a young man who wants the security and pay of his union factory job but who also is somewhat immature and likely to get into trouble; Faye (Tonye Patano), a union shop steward who is nearing thirty years of employment, the point where retirement benefits bump up significantly; and Reggie (Brian Marable), a first level manager who is caught, physically and emotionally, between his superiors and the people he supervises.

Not much happens. A lot happens. These seemingly contradictory statements are both true. To understand why calls for an explanation of indirect and ambiguous speech, a form of discourse at which Ms. Morisseau demonstrates considerable expertise.

Linguistic and communication scholars have studied situations where people express their thoughts indirectly and often ambiguously. They've noted that this sort of speech is common in the African-American community and can sound enigmatic to outsiders. Especially when African Americans are in situations where they think they can't trust others, they speak vaguely and generally, making it difficult to determine what they are really saying. The clues come in the form of small, seemingly off-handed remarks that end up containing important pieces of information which influence how relationships among speakers develop and how trust issues are negotiated. If the clue turns up more than once, it's bound to be particularly significant.

The two big items that are affecting trust in the break room conversation are a rumor that the plant might be closing and a theft problem that has surfaced and is clearly an inside job. But there are a lot of other conversations going on, too, such as Dez's "harassment" of Shanita and Faye's relationship history with Reggie that drives him to share with her what he knows about the plant closure early in the play.

Two acts go by with this sort of conversation. Sometimes it's funny (it could be funny more of the time: Ms. Morisseau's humorous lines get plenty of laughs). A lot of the time it's not. By the time the play ends, there's information that wraps up some of the conversations, but other conversations seemingly are left hanging. Until you start thinking about what you've heard and realizing what it all might mean.

The Old Globe has taken the unusual step of producing Skeleton Crew in association with MOXIE Theatre, a small local company that specializes in theatre written by and about women (and, indeed, Skeleton Crew was not only written by a woman but the women characters are far more interesting than the men). They've engaged MOXIE's Delicia Turner Sonnenberg as director. Ms. Sonnenberg is known as an actor's director, and her work is evident in the balance of performances from a cast based primarily in New York (Mr. Marable is the exception, and he's based in Detroit). Local designers Jennifer Brawn Gittings (costumes) and Sherrice Mojgani (lighting) do fine work, as does regular Globe sound designer Lindsay Jones.

Skeleton Crew is a serious play that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's also an experience that should provoke thought and conversation after it ends. There's bound to be at least one "ah-ha" moment for each audience member, though that moment may well be different for different people. It probably won't excite, but being enlightened is an excellent alternative.

Performs through May 7, 2017, Tuesday through Sunday evenings, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on The Old Globe's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets are available at the box office, by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623], or online at