Skeleton Crew


Through Sunday, Oct. 28

PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill

It’s not just the title of newly minted Macarthur fellow Dominique Morisseau’s gritty drama, Skeleton Crew, that’s tinged with Halloween.

Mortality and fear also haunt the discourse of the characters, Faye, Shanita, and Dez, who are employed—at least for the moment, in 2008—on one of the last working lines in a Detroit stamping plant. These are the darkest days of the American auto industry, and Morisseau documents the pressures on its surviving factory workers, their managers, and the city that dwindles around them as closed plants form a necropolis of vanished jobs and people.

Young hothead Dez (a forceful Alex Givens) calls the shuttered shops a “breeding ground” for “assembly-line ghosts,” adding, “You can hear the echoes of machines just runnin’ and runnin’ in the hollow space.” But as the plot develops, Morisseau’s text becomes an ethical meditation on an industrial lifeboat that’s slowly going under.

Faye (a brusque, believable Kathryn Hunter-Williams), the long-time union representative, clearly takes no junk from anyone. But she’s forced into an uneasy alliance with Reggie, the line manager (Samuel Ray Gates, last seen in Leaving Eden), when he confides in her that the plant will close.

Reggie begs for time to negotiate the best exit strategy for employees, including the pregnant, single Shanita (a strong Shanelle Nicole Leonard). Meanwhile, plant management is cracking down on discipline in the face of thefts, and the rank and file is pressuring Faye for the truth about its future.

The company’s stamping machines exert thousands of pounds of pressure when they form metal sheets into flawless auto parts. But as director Valerie Curtis-Newton reveals on Jan Chambers’s dingy break-room set, human dreams, ambitions, and souls respond very differently when placed under the kind of stress we witness here.