Skeleton Crew
Amari Cheatom and Tonye Patano. Photo by Jim Cox.

Skeleton Crew

Written by Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg
The Old Globe, San Diego
April 8 – May 7, 2017
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A break room in a Detroit auto plant functions as more than a place to store lunch, drink coffee, and engage in company gossip in the thought-provoking “Skeleton Crew,” on stage at The Old Globe.

Gruff, chain smoking, card playing Faye (Tonye Patano) has been a line worker for 29 years and is just about to grab the brass ring of a full pension. She’s the plant’s union rep and also a mother hen to impulsive, hot-headed Dez (Amari Cheatom); pregnant, unwed Shanita (Rachel Nicks) and by-the-book manager Reggie (Brian Marable), whose numerous DO NOT SMOKE signs in the break room Faye flagrantly ignores. Faye also ignores the economic storm clouds threatening the auto industry, the toll of smoking on her health and a freefall gambling habit.

Faye and Reggie have a shared history through Reggie’s late mother. Because Faye helped Reggie get his job 15 years earlier, he feels obligated to give her a heads up that the plant’s days are numbered. When Dez and Shanita ask her about rumors that the doors are to be padlocked, Faye avoids answering by taking another drag on her cigarette.

It’s clear that someone is going to be thrown under the bus. Who will it be? Also, who is behind a recent rash of after-hours stealing from the plant?

The break room serves as a character itself, courtesy of scenic designer Tim Macabee. From duct tape patches on fatigued chair seats to yellow-and-black caution tape on the chipped linoleum floor highlighting the tense worker-versus-management atmosphere to metal lockers that double as strong boxes containing additional secrets: junk food treats that expectant mother Shanita knows she shouldn’t eat, toiletries to facilitate Faye secretly living at the plant having lost her home to the bank and a handgun belonging to Dez that either fends off crime or facilitates him as a perpetrator.

“Skeleton Crew” is produced in association with MOXIE Theatre, in El Cajon. It also marks MOXIE co-founder Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s Globe directorial debut, and a compelling one it is. Under her rock-solid guidance, the actors breathe life into playwright Dominique Morisseau’s complicated and captivating characters in memorable scene after scene.

Costume designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings accessorizes the crew’s jeans, pullovers and t-shirts with OSHA-worthy safety vests, protective earmuffs, dust masks and steel-reinforced work boots. When it’s time to clock out at the end of his shift, Dez dons swaggering black leather. Manager Reggie’s button-down shirt and straggling necktie accentuate his rising blood pressure as conflicts escalate.

Flickering fluorescent-tube fixtures, by lighting designer Sherrice Mojgani, glare down on the room’s hard edges and the crew’s hard choices. The unseen factory floor is nonetheless evident thanks to sound designer Lindsay Jones’s subtle yet persistent cacophony of whirling pneumatic drills and rhythmic metal strikes.

Overhead, an oversized I-Beam that runs diagonally through the Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Akin to the Sword of Damocles, the girder hangs menacingly over the characters, their futures, and that of the entire U.S. manufacturing sector.

About that girder: Scenic designer Tim Macabee had it constructed of 2×4 wood beams and convincingly painted to look like steel down to the rust weeping from the rivets. How do I know this? Talk to ushers; they are a font of knowledge.

By Lynne Friedmann

San Diego,
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.