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THEATER REVIEW Skeleton Crew
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-02-14

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Playwright: Dominique Morisseau

At: Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie Tickets: $30-$81. Runs through: March 3

This grubby industrial break room, with its cold fluorescent-tubing lights and peeling walls, is beginning to look disturbingly familiar to Chicago playgoers, given the recent proliferation of plays depicting gritty low-level working conditions. If this is unsettling, maybe it's because, as union steward Faye reminds us, "Any moment, any one of us can become The Other"—transformed from the person handing panhandlers spare change out the car window on the exit ramp to the one holding the sign.

The third in her "Detroit Trilogy," Dominique Morisseau's microcosmic portrait of the Michigan city's decline introduces us to four employees at one of the small manufacturing plants providing support for the automotive "big three" upon which the region's economy rests. Faced with the facility's imminent closure, Faye hopes to remain on the payroll long enough to receive her 30-year retirement package, Dez contemplates looting the factory's inventory for the tools to start his own business, pregnant Shanita ponders an alternative job offer, and foreman Reggie chafes under the inhumane demands of management higher-ups.

This crisis is only part of the story, however. Faye, we learn, shared a lesbian relationship with Reggie's late mother, making for a filial dynamic that cannot help but intrude on company protocol. ( By contrast, Faye's own son is forbidden by his church from allowing her to visit her grandchild. ) Shanita proudly imagines the vehicles she helps create enabling strangers to enjoy a better life, while Dez recalls how a car's quality assembly once saved his life in a traffic smashup. Reggie finally snaps—almost—during a conference with his bosses. Oh, and who keeps stealing supplies right under the eyes of the security cams, and is a squatter living in the break room?

If this was old-school agitdrama, peopled with archetypes proclaiming us-against-them polemics, we wouldn't care—after all, these aren't our problems ( yet )—but Morisseau endows her characters with backstories immediately analogous to experiences crossing racial and class boundaries. Ron OJ Parson's direction of an all-star ensemble ensures our unwavering attention and empathy, while Scott Davis bridges scene shifts with kinetic murals conveying the mighty grandeur of machinery on the brink of being abandoned to rust.


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