There are people who go forgotten in the world, mainly because their lives, from the outside, don’t seem very interesting. When a play is written about these people – the Willy Lomans, the Tom Wingfields – it allows us a look into a world richer than we could imagine. Dominique Morriseau’s “Skeleton Crew” takes us inside the world of some of these people, and we leave better for the experience.
Faye (Ami Brabson) has been working at a Detroit auto factory for 29 years, and the rumors it is beginning to falter are getting louder and louder. Dez (Christian Henley) works there to save money to open his own business; Shanita (Margaret Odette) is proud of her job and the work she does, and hopes to make this job a career for herself and the child she is carrying. Reggie (Daniel Morgan Shelley), their supervisor, has gotten the job through Faye, a family friend; his loyalty is torn between his workers and the management. The co-workers form a family group of sorts in their breakroom, helping each other deal with life as it changes rapidly around them.
The group of actors director Awoye Timpo has gathered for the production are stellar. Brabson is the clear star here as Faye; she holds her co-workers together in their group with tough love, humor and compassion. When we realize the problems that she, herself, is hiding, it’s like the floor drops out from under us – the people that seem to have it the most together are often hiding something just beneath the surface. Her performance is strong and open and one of the best I’ve seen this summer. Henley’s Dez is a lost boy trying to make something of himself; he has dreams and doesn’t want to lose them as so many of his friends have, but his bravado is a mask that easily crumbles. Odette shines as Shanita. She’s the heart of the production, the hope: not only for herself, a young woman with potential for greatness, but for the child she carries, who has the potential to see a better world. Shelley digs deep for Reggie, with excellent results. Who hasn’t known someone who has been promoted to oversee people who were previously their peers? It’s a fine line to walk, wanting to retain the friendships, yet also needing the respect and authority of the position. His pain is evident, and he does fine work.
David Towlun’s scenic design is gritty and realistic; the break room is anonymous enough to be in any factory in the country, including the “Your mother doesn’t work here, clean up after yourself” sign.
Theater is meant to hold a mirror up to society, to show us what we are, for better or worse. What we’re being shown here are people struggling to get by, and the society that would like to ignore their existence completely, like the management of the factory that wants to wipe the slate clean. We can’t afford to look away, and we shouldn’t – our humanity depends on it.
“Skeleton Crew,” Chester Theatre Company, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester, MA, through July 23, $37.50-$10, Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission,chestertheatre.org