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FROM THIS EPISODE

Dominique Morisseau's play "Skeleton Crew" is a feel good play about an auto plant closing.

It takes place in the break room of a Detroit auto plant. Times are tough. Plants are closing all over the place. People are losing their jobs, their dreams. And there are rumors that this plant might be next. That's got this play’s quartet of African-American characters on edge.

For Shanita, it's a big deal because she's pregnant and trying to work the line for as long as she can. It’s her dream to be part of something bigger, part of making something. She's on her own and this is her shot. Another worker is a union rep and has been here forever, done every job in this plant. For her, it's a big deal because she's on the edge of retirement and as we're told several times the pension plan at 29 years looks a lot different than the one at 30.

Dez is more of a realist. He sees the writing on the wall and just wants to make it to his next thing. He wants to open his own shop, control his own destiny but people get the wrong idea about him (though he's probably not doing himself any favors stashing a gun in his locker every day).

On the other side of the line is the supervisor, Reggie. While he's from the same community as the other three, he's gotten a button up shirt and tie job. He's management. That doesn't necessarily make things easier because he's getting pressure from above to downsize and produce.

Which leads to dual ticking time bombs in the play. First, the rumors of the plant closing. Second, Reggie's got inside information. He goes to Faye, as the union rep, and asks her to keep his secret long enough for him to come up with a plan. You know this isn't going to work out well - so you are left wondering just who is going to pay and how.

At the heart of the play is this question: how do you fight a system that's rigged against you from the start? In a world where both choices are wrong - which one is right?

That's a noble subject but difficult to pull off. Ms. Morrisseau is trying to give voice to characters you don't get to see nearly enough in the regional theater. She wants you to see them as good, whole, complicated people. The challenge is this work ends up being something of a monologue play - not because we get mostly monologues but structurally we get scenes built around revealing one character's struggles at a time. There are powerful, touching moments but they never string together.

Because Ms. Morriseau wants to see the good in everyone - you lack a true antagonist. So when the inevitable happens, the play attempts a transcendence that leaves no one with guilt or consequences - as if an auto plant closing down were a happy ending. That's satisfying for a moment but a little hollow upon reflection.

We need more plays like "Skeleton Crew" in the theater...but we also need plays that aren't afraid to confront an audience with endings that are as complicated and unsatisfying as the issues they are trying to tackle.

"Skeleton Crew" plays at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through July 8.

CREDITS

Host:
Anthony Byrnes

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