Every scene in “Skeleton Crew” — which the Premiere Stages series is currently presenting at Kean University in Union — takes place in just about the drabbest setting imaginable: The employees’ break room of a Detroit car factory, in the present or the very near past. There’s a refrigerator, a microwave oven, some lockers, a couch, a bulletin board, and everything looks like it should have been replaced years ago.
In the skillful hands of playwright Dominique Morisseau, though, a remarkable story unfolds in this ultra-ordinary setting. (John J. Wooten directs the production, and Patrick Rizzotti designed that plain but evocative scenery). “Skeleton Crew” is, one one level, a workplace drama that’s particularly timely in the era of downsizing and corporate heartlessness. But it also feels timeless.
There are four characters: Faye (Patricia R. Floyd), a veteran assembly line worker and and the crew’s current union rep, who has seen it all and then some; Dez (Daniel Boisrond), a younger, headstrong, not-always-cooperative co-worker itching to start his own repair shop; Shanita (Kristen Adele), young and pregnant and a model employee; and Reggie (Shane Taylor), their stressed out and tough but also somewhat sympathetic supervisor.
They’re a tight little group, aware of each other’s quirks and sensitive spots. “No Smoking — This Means You Faye!!!” reads a sign posted, presumably by Reggie, on the bulletin board.
Looming over them all is factory’s possible closing. Yes, there have always been rumors here, through the years, that the end may be near. But this time the warning signs are a little more ominous. And being fired would be devastating for Reggie, who has a family to support; Faye, who is close to the 30 years of employment she needs to get the severance package she deserves; Dez, who needs a little more time to earn enough money to open his shop; and Shanita, who desperately needs to hold on to her health benefits.
In other words, everybody.
They’re all in a tough spot, to say the least. As as the days go by, with their future uncertain, alliances are formed, secrets are shared, and tensions escalate to an almost unbearable level.
These are complex characters, and the actors do a good job of making them believable.
Floyd brings a sort of wounded nobility to Faye, and Boisrond shows a intriguing mix of rebelliousness and sweetness as Dez.
Taylor’s Reggie, the middle manager, has the impossible task of trying to please his bosses while also doing right by those he supervises. He’s got the most power here — meaning, among the four people in the break room — but he’s also a long-suffering everyman. He simmers. But will he explode?
In the second paragraph, I called “Skeleton Crew” a workplace drama. But now that I think about it, it really feels, in many ways, more like a family drama. Faye and Reggie are the mother and father figures; Dez and Shanita the difficult and the “good” child, respectively.
Yet this is not a self-contained unit, since they’re ultimately ruled by the whims of executives who remain faceless, and utterly unconcerned about what is going on at this level.
Premiere Stages presents “Skeleton Crew” at the Zella Fry Theatre at Kean University in Union through July 30; visit premierestagesatkean.com.