Skeleton Crew Theatre Review – A “Crew” That Works Like a Well-Oiled Machine

L. Peter Callender’s flawless direction and his powerfully talented cast make “Skeleton Crew” the perfect New Year opener

The victors in "Skeleton Crew"
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(St. Petersburg, FL) January 31, 2020 – As it happened with The Great Depression, the Great Recession tested the will of every single American. From 2008 throughout the 2010s, people faced this economic upheaval in one of two ways: they either tightened their belts, worked multiple jobs and became victors of their own perseverance, or they wallowed in self-pity and became victims of their own circumstances. States that were affected the most included New York, New Jersey, California, and especially Michigan, where the declining Detroit automobile industry impacted countless lives. Playwright Dominique Morisseau explores how four individuals strive to overcome their struggles in “Skeleton Crew,” which makes its Tampa Bay premiere at American Stage. And the results, not surprisingly, are an amazing thing to behold. L. Peter Callender’s flawless direction and his powerfully talented cast make “Skeleton Crew” the perfect New Year opener.

Faye becoming a mother figure to Shantia

On the eve of the Great Recession, tensions are high at an automotive stamping plant in Detroit. Rumors of the factory closing down are slowly percolating into reality. Veteran union rep Faye (Dee Selmore) is afraid of losing her well-earned 30-year retirement plan. The ambitious Dez (Rasell Holt) wants to use his savings to create his own auto shop. A pregnant Shantia (Camille Upshaw) only wants to provide for her child while working in an industry that she loves. And the white collar foreman Reggie (Enoch King) is walking a fine line between providing for his own family and protecting his workers. As the verdict comes in regarding the plant and its workers, everyone must decide how to survive from their respective challenges.

Reggie trying to convince Faye about the realities at the plant

Morisseau made an impressive debut at American Stage last year with “Pipeline,” and much of that success comes from her incredible ability to portray social issues through the human element, rather than creating a political diatribe. She successfully accomplishes that with “Crew” as well, wonderfully capturing her characters’ trials, dreams, and passions. Her dialogue is both gritty and poetic, conjuring a subtle magical air that is very reminiscent of August Wilson’s 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle. But what jumps out the most is the heart-warming friendship between Faye and Reggie. A primary reason for their close bond is Faye and Reggie’s deceased mother were lovers while the younger man was growing up. But what cements their relationship even more is Morisseau’s creative choice in not crafting Reggie as that tiresome “evil plant manager” cliché. He is written as a compassionate man who is uncertain about his role as a leader, and it is Faye’s maternal nature that helps him overcome his doubt and insecurity. By accomplishing this, there is only one realistic “villain” in the story:  the circumstances that these individuals face. And by doing so, Morisseau creates a theatrical snapshot of three-dimensional victors of their challenges, not stereotypical victims.

Dez playing it smooth with Shantia

What is a real pleasure is seeing these characters brought to life by a cast of gifted artists. Two American Stage veterans return from their successful collaboration of Raisin in the Sun:” the mercurial Dee Selmore and the dynamic Enoch King. In “Raisin,” Selmore was the gossipy Mrs. Johnson, providing much of the show’s comic relief. But this skilled actor reveals so much incredible layering as Faye, a strong-willed but tender woman who perfectly balances her strength, vulnerability, and a street-wise wisdom that grabs everyone’s attention. Her Faye is the cornerstone of the overall foundation of her team, and Selmore’s multifaceted portrayal is a true sight to see. After giving two wonderfully explosive performances in “Raisin” and “Between Riverside and Crazy” (from American Stage’s 2018/2019 season), it is interesting to see King as a more internal character in “Crew.” His Reggie is a straight-laced manager who is strictly by the book, almost trying to control the environment around him. He shows how Reggie slowly absorbs the tension and stressful situations, and he internalizes his frustration and helplessness until he blows up when the final straw breaks, revealing a tearful broken man. A bravura performance by King. And then there is Upshaw’s endearing Shanita and Holt’s charismatic Dez. Upshaw nicely combines Shanita’s naïveté with an idealistic passion. Holt is a true talent as he adds many facets to Dez’s personality, which includes youthful rage and tenacious loyalty. Both these young artists compliment each other beautifully, enhancing their stage chemistry even more. And by adding Director L. Peter Callender’s masterful smooth direction into the mix, American Stage, once again, has a another successful production that was penned by a exceptional playwright named Dominique Morisseau.

Peter A. Balaskas is a fiction writer, copyeditor, and playwright.

Skeleton Crew runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 23, 2020

American Stage

163 3rd St N.

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Photos by Joey Clay Studio

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