×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Skeleton Crew’ by Dominique Morisseau

With:
Lynda Gravatt, Jason Dirden, Nikiya Mathis, Wendell B. Franklin, Adesola Osakalumi.

There’s little wrong with “Skeleton Crew,” the final play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, that August Wilson couldn’t fix. Like Wilson, whose ten-play cycle surveys a century of African American life, this playwright has heart, along with a sense of historical moments that define the lives of ordinary Americans. Her rough-edged dialogue even has a touch of the street poet. What’s missing in the work, now playing at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company, is a grasp of character-driven dramatic action — although that can still be acquired.

That’s not to say that the completion of “The Detroit Project” isn’t in itself an achievement, as much for political substance as for style. The first play, “Detroit ’67,” depicted the city’s devastating race riots from the perspective of residents who considered those events a social rebellion. “Paradise Blue” viewed a massive 1940s urban renewal project through the eyes of the jazz community whose thriving culture was displaced by a highway.

Morisseau (“Shameless”) foresees another major disaster looming in “Skeleton Crew” (perfect title), which observes three auto workers and their supervisor clinging to their jobs at the city’s last functioning export auto plant. An Expressionist sequence of robo-rock music and automatized dance (choreographed and performed by Adesola Osakalumi) is a pounding introduction to the relentless rhythms of assembly line work.  It’s pretty obvious why the starkly ugly setting (by Michael Carnahan) of the factory break room — with its shabby furnishings, metal lockers and battered coffee station — feels like such a comforting refuge.

Under Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s sensitive directorial hand, a small, impressive ensemble deliver well-detailed character studies of the plant workers. Lynda Gravatt is fierce and fine as the homeless but proud union rep who has been secretly living in the break room. Jason Dirden vacillates convincingly as a decent but angry young man who has somehow gotten hold of a gun. Nikiya Mathis is all sweetness and light as a pregnant girl who is happy with her life and, too bad for her, loves her job. And Wendell B. Franklin makes a mensch of the young supervisor who cares enough for his workers to put a portable heater in the break room.

These characters talk a good game — a very good game, when Morisseau puts all her heart into a speech.  But nothing consequential comes from the chummy interaction among friendly characters and, being pawns of the system they work under, none of their emoting gives them the slightest power to change — or, more important, to participate in — what’s coming.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Skeleton Crew' by Dominique Morisseau

Atlantic Theater Company; 94 seats; $61.50 top. Opened Jan. 19, 2016. Reviewed Jan. 15. Running time: TWO HOURS.

Production: An Atlantic Theater Company production of a play in two acts by Dominique Morisseau.

Creative: Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Set, Michael Carnahan; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Rui Rita; original music & sound design, Robert Kaplowitz; original songs, Jimmy "J. Keys" Keys; choreography, Adesola Osakalumi; production stage manager, Laura Wilson.

Cast: Lynda Gravatt, Jason Dirden, Nikiya Mathis, Wendell B. Franklin, Adesola Osakalumi.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content