Review: ‘Skeleton Crew’ at Marin Theatre Company (*****)

Christian Thompson as Dez and Margo Hall as Faye are two workers at an auto plant that may be shut down in the Bay Area Premiere of “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Moisseau.

by Charles Kruger

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

There are only four characters and a single set (the employee’s break room in a Detroit auto plant) in Dominique Morisseau’s remarkable play, “Skeleton Crew.” But by the time the final act is concluded, you may well feel you have seen an epic story, with many more characters, and a great deal more action than actually occurs on the stage. So much emotional and poliltical and historical ground has been covered so thoroughly, catharsis has been so effectively achieved, that the result is astonishingly satisfying. This is the kind of true-to-life, full experience that is only achieved by highly skilled playwrights with an exceptionally accomplished technique blessed with an equally distinguished company of artists to bring the words to life.

With “Skeleton Crew” at Marin Theatre Company everything falls into place. From the first moment, the well-coordinated work of designers Ed Haynes (set), Steve Mannshardt (lighting), Callie Floor (Costumes), Karin Graybash (sound) and Mike Post(projections) sets the tone by creating an environment that not only convincingly establishes a location (the break room in a factory) but successfully suggests the presence of an entire outside world where  hundreds of workers are bustling about on assembly lines. A great deal is done with very little.

Everything here is tight and nothing wasted. Morisseau’s script has all the necessary characteristics of fine literature. Each event, each prop, each detail not only moves the story forward, but is rich in associations and metaphorical depth. The phrase “Skeleton Crew” is only one example: it suggests the ways in which these four individuals, faced with an existential crisis as the factory may be shut down, are finding their lives reduced to the “bare bones.” It also refers to what they are in the factory: the smallest possible remaining crew to keep things running until the doors are closed. And, beyond that, it serves nicely as a memento mori.

The characters are each fully realized and yet serve as almost mythic archetypes at the same time: there is the earth mother type (union leader and elder Faye, played gloriously by the always dazzling Margo Hall), young mother-to-be Shanita (a fiery Tristan Cunningham), hapless lover Dez (a sweetly goofy Christian Thompson), and the boss man caught between a rock and a hard place with conflicting loyalties that threaten to overwhelm him (an excellent performance by Lance Gardner.)

Under the pressure of the impending plant closing, however, more and more is revealed of the characters and we learn surprising strengths, weaknesses and history from each of them.

By the end of the play, they have each transcended their stereotypes.

This amazingly well-crafted play puts Dominique Moisseau in a class with some of thevery best, such as the great August Wilson, by whom she has been clearly influenced.

It is exciting to imagine what she may do in the future!

“Skeleton Crew” plays at Marin Theatre Company through February 18. For further information, click here.

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Rating:  ***** (for an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morisseau, produced by Marin Theatre Company and Theatreworks Silicon Valley. Director: Jade KingCarroll.  Scenic Designer: Ed Haynes. Lighting Designer: Steve Mannshardt. Costume Designer: Callie Floor.Sound Designer: Karin Graybash. ProjectionsDesigner: Mike Post. 

Cast:

Shanita: Tristan Cunningham. Reggie: Lance Gardner. Faye: Margo Hall. Dez: Christian Thompson. 

 

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