Theater Review: An Out Of Reach American Dream In Trinity Rep's 'Skeleton Crew'

Oct 26, 2017

Trinity Rep continues its season with "Skeleton Crew." The play is set in Detroit but could be almost anywhere USA. Rhode Island Public Radio's Bill Gale says it's a production with many strong points and some problems too.

The American Dream takes another beating at Trinity Rep. The theater opened its season with a powerful, spot-on version of Arthur Miller’s ever-vibrant “Death of a Salesman.”  Now, Trinity has put forth another work that cuts its way into the idea that in America if you work hard and mind your business you will do well.

“Skeleton Crew” is set in the world of African-Americans. Its characters have all started with problems. The play by Detroit-er Dominique Morisseau, says their way upward is definitely difficult, definitely different from the one that white Americans face.

The four workers are all together in a major mechanical factory, a Detroit place where everything must be done with clear and accurate work, or else. There’s Dez, a tough street kid who makes some major bad decisions. There’s Shanita, a smart young lady with a baby due, and other problems, too.

Then there’s Reggie, a young man moving up in the work world. But faced with problems he can’t quite understand. And, finally, there’s Faye, a 50-ish woman with outward powers and internal difficulties that just won't go away.

A major difficulty is that all of them are faced with the threat that their workplace is on the way out, a decent job fading away from that American Dream. From that premise, we see their trials and tribulations grow and grow until the unsurprising end.

All of this is well done. Playwright Morisseau gives each character clear needs, clear hopes. And the cast, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene is strong. As Reggie, Jude Sandy catches all of the needs of the guy on the way up who is faced with almost insurmountable problems.

Shenyse LeAnna Harris and Will Adams are both fine and fearful as the young couple, struggling often. And Lizan Mitchell as the 50-ish women is splendid. She makes her character tough and smart and then crashes everything.

So where are the problems, you ask? Well,  first of all, “Skeleton Crew” is set in a theater-in-the-round motif. All too often major moments are done with the back of actors toward much of the audience. A small but annoying continual problem.

Another is that at frequent times it is difficult to understand what is being said. And finally, “Skeleton Crew” manages to, more or less, forget about the problems of its people who lose jobs with little hope of regaining anything ever as good. The end says that all will be okay because they are going to hang on together.

It’s a nice thought. But not one with much real hope. Which is very sad but, unfortunately, all too true, all too often.

“Skeleton Crew” continues at Trinity Rep, in rotation with “Death Of A Salesman," until November 22nd. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.