MTC’s funny and astute Broadway premiere of ‘Skeleton Crew’ extols core values and a human support system in hard times

The Broadway premiere of Manhattan Theatre Club’s Skeleton Crew, written by Tony Award nominee Dominique Morisseau and directed by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, presents a very human story of the impact of a failing economy and an escalating crime rate on the hard-working employees of a small auto factory, rumored to be closing and plagued by nightly thefts, in 2008 Detroit. And it does so with the razor-sharp wit and humanity of an insightful playwright, as delivered by a brilliant and empathetic cast.

The cast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Set in the timeworn break room of a decaying stamping plant (scenic design by Michael Carnahan), three strong-minded, dedicated, and engaging blue-collar workers – Faye, Dez, and Shanita (in status-defining costumes by Emilio Sosa) – share coffee and food, quips and flirtations, workplace gossip and concerns about the factory’s imminent downsizing and ultimate shutdown that would have dramatic ramifications on their lives, financial well-being, and future plans. They are soon joined by their white-collar foreman Reggie, who rose from his blue-collar roots, only to find himself now caught between the insensitive demands of his supervisors and his compassion for the crew and worries about the welfare of his own family.

The rapid-fire pace, everyday language, and entertaining characters keep the two-act show moving, the laughs coming, and the astute socio-economic observations flying, through funny and thought-provoking interactions and the backstories of the distinctive personalities, which reveal their flaws, struggles, inter-relationships, philosophies of life, and innate sense of survival. Despite their joking, questions, and sometimes heated disagreements, they share a bond, a dedication to the good work they do, and an abiding loyalty to one another that provides the support they need when the chips are down.

Brandon J. Dirden and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Tony Award winner and five-time Emmy nominee Phylicia Rashad stars as the tough caustic 29-year factory veteran and union rep Faye, who needs to reach 30 years of employment to collect an increased retirement pension. Though she defends the actions of her longtime friend Reggie, her recurrent and flagrant infractions of the regulations prohibiting smoking and gambling in the building, along with a significant secret she has managed to keep from him, could put her job at risk.

Like Faye, her younger co-workers Dez and Shanita, portrayed with three-dimensional depth, humor, and commitment by Joshua Boone and Chanté Adams, are top performers at the plant, who have begun to question the security of their jobs. Both in their twenties, Dez, who is attracted to the single, pregnant, and hormonal Shanita, is saving to start his own business and she, who continually and humorously rebuffs him, to support her coming child. While she adheres to all the rules and takes great pride in her work, he bristles against the suspicions and accusations of insubordination made by his boss, refusing to let him inspect the contents of his locker and bag, and calling out Faye for not doing more to protect the interests of the workers. And the tense and torn Reggie, played with convincing psychological depth and emotion by Brandon J. Dirden, must come to terms with the situation and decide where he stands.

Joshua Boone and Chanté Adams. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The multi-layered themes and compelling characterizations are enhanced by Rui Rita’s lighting, original music and sound by Rob Kaplowitz, and robotic choreography by Adesola Osakalumi, representing the daily grind of the factory machines, which he embodies and performs between scenes to original music and lyrics by Jimmy Keys (aka “J. Keys”) and projections by Nicholas Hussong.

Will Faye, Dez, and Shanita retain their jobs long enough to realize their dreams? Will Dez and Shanita make a romantic connection? Will Reggie use his position to stand up to management for the working people (as Morisseau, in her special program note, says her father taught her to do)? See for yourself in this entertaining, affecting, and sympathetic production that champions the lives and contributions of blue-collar America.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 5 minutes, including an intermission.

Skeleton Crew plays through Sunday, February 20, 2022, at Manhattan Theatre Club, performing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $59-149), call (212) 239-6200, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, along with a government-issued photo ID, to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times when inside.


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