‘Skeleton Crew’ Sympathetically Explores The Blue-Collar Experience

March 1, 2022

Dawndra Nickole Lampkin – Courtesy of Emily Schwank. Used with permission.

Continuing to provide exceptional programming to our community, Summit Performance Indianapolis presents “Skeleton Crew” on the Basile Stage at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre through March13. I saw the compelling drama on opening night.

Summit’s values are to increase the representation of our country’s diverse population on and behind the stage. To that end, the company is presenting this show by actor-playwright Dominique Morisseau, an African American who grew up in Detroit. She has written more than nine plays, three of which are part of a cycle, titled The Detroit Projects, that examine the socio-political history of the Motor City. “Skeleton Crew” is the final play in that cycle.

Set in the Great Recession of 2008, this funny and affecting play, which recently closed on Broadway, has moments of intensity. It takes place in the break room of a sheet-metal-stamping plant in Detroit that is facing foreclosure. If and when that happens really matters to dreamer Dez (Kerrington Shorter), who is saving money to start his own business. Pregnant, single and driven Shanita (Akili Ni Mali) is looking for a promotion that will help her and her baby. Financially insecure Faye, (Dwandra Nickole Lampkin) is the shop’s union rep, who is about to retire if she can get a reasonable severance package. It’s a tight-knit group that interacts with each other in a relaxed, familial way. Overseeing them is their foreman, serious-minded Reggie (Daniel A. Martin), who once worked the line with the workers, but is now a manager, forcing him to choose between loyalty to his former peers, his own career aspirations, and pressure from his bosses. Tough-as-nails Faye, a union diehard, has a soft place for Reggie, whom she has known since he was a kid. He implores her to keep a secret that puts her in a precarious position with her co-workers.

L-R Kerrington Shorter & Akili Ni Mali – Courtesy of Emily Schwank. Used with permission.

Deftly directed by Melissa Mowry, the gifted cast members superbly convey their characters’ natural rapport with one other, delivering Morisseau’s realistic dialogue with convincing ease. Especially impressive was the actors’ near-seamless ability to stay in character while performing in such close proximity to the audience in the über-intimate black box space that it is the Basile Stage.

Morisseau’s work explores the sometimes-blurred line between the blue and white-collar experience. It’s a subject I can definitely relate to. As the son of a 30-year factory worker and union man, the characters in the drama resembled people I grew up with on the east side of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a neighborhood that was in the shadow of many of that city’s largest factories. The play convincingly captures the uncertainty that comes when the economy turns, and managers make decisions that directly affect hard-working, blue-collar workers. In this case, they’re people of color, who also have to deal with the additional hardships of institutional racism. Ultimately, what makes the play most satisfying is its compassion for blue-collar workers, who take pride in a job well done, and deserve dignity and respect for their contributions.

For ticket and information about “Skeleton Crew,” visit phoenixtheatre.org. The play runs through March 13.


photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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