Renewed economic uncertainty, work-family struggles and the nationwide UAW strikes at Big Three auto plants all give extra resonance to the 2016 play, which is set in 2008 at the start of the Great Recession, where one of the last auto stamping plants in Detroit is on shaky ground, running with its titular “skeleton crew.”
Each of the workers have to make choices on how to move forward if their plant goes under, according to a play synopsis. Shanita has to decide how she’ll support herself and her unborn child; Faye has to decide how and where she’ll live, and Dez has to figure out how to make his ambitious dreams a reality.
Power dynamics shift as their manager Reggie is torn between doing right by his work family, and by the red tape in his office. Powerful and tense, “Skeleton Crew” is the third of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit cycle trilogy.
A New York Times review of a January 2022 Broadway production called it “so adroitly built and written” and said it’s “a pleasure to surrender to classic craftsmanship. Though you can certainly sense Morisseau’s debt to August Wilson in her dramaturgy — “Skeleton Crew” is part of a trilogy of works set in Detroit, as Wilson had his Pittsburgh Cycle — you also sense the brute efficiency of problem plays by Ibsen and the best television procedurals.”
The 2022 production was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award, and won the Tony for Phylicia Rashad for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
The Playcrafters cast features Khalia Denise of Davenport; Kermit Thomas, Moline, and Alisha Hanes and Anthony Mitchell, Rock Island.
Marquita Reynolds of East Moline is making her directorial debut here, but she is a veteran of working on theater and stage productions.
A United Township alum active in singing and theater at her church (Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist), Reynolds majored in radio and TV production at Southern Illinois University.
She has worked as an assistant stage manager for the Hollywood Bowl opening night award show (from 2009 to 2012). Locally, she has worked as stage manager on productions of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Isn’t Enuf,” “A Murder is Announced,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Black Nativity” and “Apples in Winter.”
Reynolds can closely identify with the “Skeleton Crew” characters as she worked in production for Alcoa (now Arconic) at their Riverdale plant in 2008, and was ultimately laid off in 2020.
In 2008, when that financial crisis hit, her grandmother had just died, and she decided to move to Los Angeles to put her film and TV degree to use.
“With that crisis happening, I’m just gonna leave. I’m gonna go to Hollywood. So that was, that was why I left the organization then at Alcoa,” she said Thursday. “In the factory when I was working there, there was a lot of tension and a lot of people were fearing losing their jobs and there were layoffs that were coming.”
“Just working in an environment where you had that kind of buildup and that tension and then not knowing, that’s what I see in the script of ‘Skeleton Crew’.”
“Then of course, in 2020 when we had the big layoffs again, and I was a member of one of those, I was one of those people who was laid off,” Reyolds said, noting she was with Alcoa off and on 15 years. “It’s just you go through all these different things and you see, I see those themes in ‘Skeleton Crew’.”
Her day job now is as development coordinator for the nonprofit Quad Cities Open Network, where she writes grants.
Drawing from personal experience
Reynolds wanted to direct the new Playcrafters show since she said she’s lived that life.
“This isn’t something unfamiliar to me. I’ve been a production worker,” she said. “I did not work in a stamping plant, but I have worked on the production floor and I have made metal and like I said, I’ve lived this life so I thought I could help other people know what it’s like to do that when they’re going through these characters.”
Playcrafters has done a good job over the years in bringing African-American stories, playwrights and actors to the Moline stage, but there’s always room for improvement, Reynolds said.
“I always believe we can do more because it’s not just bringing a play in, but it’s actually reaching the community to get them to participate,” she said. “It’s good that they’re reading the scripts and finding good plays. But yeah, there’s still more work to be done in that area.”
Playcrafters and other local theaters should do a better job in promoting casting notices to places and organizations where communities of color exist, Reynolds said.
“That’s my issue with trying to cast a diverse play when we’re not seeking diverse people,” she said, noting they should reach out more to minority churches and other organizations to boost diversity in casts and crews.
Regardless of the color of characters, stories like “Skeleton Crew” are universal and can connect with all audiences, Reynolds said.
“I believe if you’ve ever worked in manufacturing, in any capacity at all, you’ll understand the themes that these folks are living through,” she said. “Reaching out for the American dream and then finding it being taken from you in some way, shape or form, and then the fact that we all have just came through the pandemic and how we just had to shut down and how that affected everybody’s life in different ways.”
The play (combining comedy and drama) is also about how we care for each other – our work families, our chosen families and our literal families.
“Sometimes you can miss what’s right in front of your face. And I think that that’s one of the things that you’ll see in this play,” Reynolds said. “There’s things happening that are happening right in front of someone’s face and you missed the entire thing so you could have been of service, but you missed it.”
“Because we’re all going through our day-to-day work and we have our own routines and our own lives and we’re thinking about ourselves and we tend to miss opportunities to notice somebody else’s life and if we’re able to assist in that or not,” she added.
“Skeleton Crew” (rated R) will run Oct. 6-8 and 13-15 at the Barn Theatre, 4950 35th Ave., Moline. Performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sundays.
Tickets ($15, $13 for military and seniors) are available the Playcrafters website HERE or by calling 309-762-0330. They also will be for sale at the door while available.