Sunday, September 9, 2018

Skeleton Crew—Artists Rep—SW Portland

A Union of Misfit Souls

     This stirring production, playing to a full house on the opening night of their 36th successful season, is written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by William (Bill) Earl Ray.   It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through September 30th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.

     Morisseau is a worthy scribe, in the vain of many fine writers of their extended neighborhoods, including shades of Studs Turkel (Chicago), a wee dose of Damon Runyon (Brooklyn) and a worthy tribute to the late, great, August Wilson (Philly).  She exemplifies her town, Detroit, and the plight of its characters, as those other fine authors did.  And she does it very, very well!

     We all probably have had love/hate relationships with our jobs and the people who have worked beside us, much like the ups and downs in an extended (perhaps, somewhat dysfunctional) family.  And, in this case, they may be one of the last vestiges of a dying industry, the automobile factory.  Morisseau’s title, “Skeleton Crew,” seems to refer to a minimum group of trained individuals trying valiantly to keep up with the demands of a slowing economy.  Or, maybe, it also reflects the motley gathering of individuals, stripped to the bone emotionally, as they feel their lives being sucked out of them.

     The opening, and subsequent occasional scenes, are powerful, as you visualize silhouettes of individuals (Jeff George, Leslie North and McKensie Rummel) moving to the organic/orgasmic rhythms, in dance-like movements (choreographer, Kemba Shannon), reflecting the stresses and precision of working on an assembly line.  A direct homage to Charlie Chaplin’s terrific film of the 30’s, “Modern Times,” detailing artistically, the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

     The story is character-driven by four individuals representing, in a way, a microcosm of America.  It all takes place in the breakroom of an automobile factory in Detroit.  There is the Foreman of the group, Reggie (Bobby Bermea) a representative of the management of the company, a caring man who sometimes has a difficult job on his hands, when attempting to herd his flock.  He also has a personal connection to Faye (Shelley B. Shelley), an employee for almost 30 years and the union representative.  She is outspoken and fair, but has her own set of burdens on a personal level to deal with, too.

     Then, there are the younger members of the clan, Dez (Vin Shambry), who is a hard-worker but a rebel.  He has dreams of owning his own garage with his son but seems remote to the rest when dealing with his own personal feelings.  There is also Shanita (Tamera Lyn), who loves her job and has probably the most spotless record in the company of all the employees.  She has dreams of having a family and retiring from the company in years to come.  They all, like a mirror, reflect recognizable individuals in our own worlds.

     I can’t tell you more of the story because much of it is learned as you witness it unfold before your eyes.  But, trust me, it is quite illuminating and very engrossing, well directed by Ray, who has chosen an exemplar cast and seems to be in touch with an actor’s processes in developing a character, as well as precisely representing the voice of the author.  The same can be said for Shannon and her dancers.

     And what a cast!  Lyn is both heart-breaking and exasperating, at times, as she goes through changes in her own life, as well as the factory’s.  Shambry accurately reflect the restlessness of a man who seems to have “a rocket in his pocket” but also seems to enjoy his position of “putting it out there” when no one else will.  And Bermea, as the conflicted “Sargent” of the troop, is marvelous in his portrayal of a good man seeing wrong and at odds when trying to “toe the line.”  And Shelley is stunning as the “conscience” of the pack, a woman with her own baggage forced, because of her good-hearted nature, to shoulder burdens of others as well.  Very beautifully performed.

     I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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