Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
That's a bit what life must seem like for Dominique Morisseau's characters in Skeleton Crew, which opened this week at Marin Theatre Company, and will move on to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in March. The location is a stamping plant in Detroit, a smaller manufactory that supplies assemblies to one of the big three U.S. automakers. But the time is 2008, the height of the financial meltdown, but before the federal bailout of auto companies.
It's no wonder, then, that the four characters who inhabit this play are bundles of stress. Shanita (Tristan Cunningham) is pregnant, looking for any bit of calm she can find amidst the chaos of a company on the edge. Dez (Christian Thompson) already has his eye on the door, but needs to log some big overtime hours to get the stake he needs to open his own repair shop. Reggie (Lance Gardner) has made the jump from blue collar to white, and he alone knows the fate that awaits the plant. He confides in Faye (Margo Hall), a family friend who is a maternal figure for him and helped him score this job that is lifting him and his family out of poverty. But it's Faye, the senior member of this crew, who is facing the biggest challenges.
Each deals with the death spiral of this company in their own way. Shanita is focused almost entirely on her soon-to-be-born baby, keeping her head down, doing her job well, and hoping that will help her survive the impending crash. Dez sees the ground rising rapidly and is working to get his own parachute before impact. Good-hearted Reggie, who is most likely to come through it all intact, is ironically the most stressed of the bunch, navigating the narrow line between the working class he came from and the management success he knows he can become. Faye, who has already fallen farther than any of the four, seems the most centered and equanimous about her fate.
Playwright Morisseau has created a well-rounded set of characters, and Jade King Carroll has assembled an excellent cast to portray them. Lance Gardner, who was so brilliant in An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep last yearbeat down yet still powerfulhas a similar challenge here, inhabiting a man who has earned the right to feel pride in his accomplishments, yet still exhibits a sense of lingering bootstrap guilt for lifting himself out of the circumstances of his birth. He knows he's not a better man because of the color of his collar, and the tension of not feeling truly at home among the workers or management clearly weighs on him.
Margo Hall exhibits a natural ease on stage, portraying a woman who has lost so much that she has, it seems, only one gift left to give. Her Faye is the maternal heart of the playbut her skillful mothering is undercut by the choices she's made. She makes good things happen for others, but has neglected her own health and well-being. Rather than watching the road in front of her, her eye is on the rear-view mirror, gazing at all that has led her to this point in her life.
Dez and Shanita are, on the other hand, fully focused on the future. What it may bring is uncertain, but each in their own way is driving confidently in the direction of their dreams. Thompson and Cunningham each do an excellent job of portraying two very different approaches to life. They clearly spark for one another, but while Shanita takes a more Zen-like approach to the mysterious new life that awaits her as a single mother, Dez is all fire and fury and righteous anger. His future is a battle to be won, hers an eventuality to be embraced.
The production is beautifully realized, with a suitably dumpy and distressed factory break room created by scenic designer Ed Haynes. With its grimy cinderblock walls, beat-up fridge (packed with a mélange of spoiling, half-eaten leftovers), Mr. Coffee machine, and an array of notifications and warnings filling every square inch of the bulletin board, it is no place you really want to berather like the situation in which the characters of Skeleton Crew find themselves.
Skeleton Crew, through February 18, 2018, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Performances at Tuesdays-Sundays at 7:30pm, with matinees February 8 at 1:00pm and February 3, 4, 11, 17 and 18 at 2:00pm. Tickets range from $22-$60, and are available at marintheatre.org, or by calling the box office at 415-388-5208.