In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of change. Along with Joe Biden their “Yes We Can” mantra endeared a majority of voters to join the quest for seeking change.
Simultaneously, that year, inside a break room at a Detroit auto plant, essential workers subscribed to the promise. So much so they stamped endorsement of the very first Black president of United States. Although life was burdensome for new and veteran workers there, they somehow felt confident that supporting the Obama/Biden ticket might bring change.
Such is the subtle association in the play “Skeleton Crew” currently playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on Broadway.
The unspoken relevance is prominently displayed on a sticker affixed to the side of a refrigerator propped for chilling foods and beverage stored by the work crew.
And while politics eludes the narrative, in fact the first Black president was elected by a 16.4 percent majority in the Michigan state that year.
Playwright Dominique Morrisseau took note of the historic milestone crossed during the election; she is a fly on the wall to explain the joys and pain of four factory workers destined for layoff from one of the auto plants due for closure.
Morrisseau is a native of the mid-western city, her watchful observances frame the focus on characters portrayed by some of the most underserved of the community.
Influenced by an article her father penned in 1984 for the Workers League in Michigan its headline “Workers are the power in this country,” inspired this thought-provoking two-hour presentation.
Morrisseau enables audiences to peek into the private space workers recline to temporarily recharge during breaks.
If walls could talk, perhaps hope for change would be imminent. Because they don’t, change only comes with transparency.
From the time workers punch-in to start shifts until the last minute they punch out audiences are able to eavesdrop on Faye (Phylicia Rashad) Dez (Joshua Boone) Shanita (Chante Adams) and Reggie (Brandon J. Dirdon).
Faye is the senior, union rep and wise-cracking veteran who has endured almost three decades at the Detroit stamping plant. Nearing retirement and on the verge of cashing in with full benefits her attitude is to coast to the finish.
Dez is young, suspicious, single, ambitious, loves hip-hop and figures he can use the company before they use him.
Shanita’s single and pregnant status does not hinder her from performing at peak. She is hard working, well-respected, and earns a reputation for carrying her share of the load without seeking favors from the men on the line.
Supervising the scaled-down crew, Reggie is an upwardly mobile, intolerant, happily married, father, mediator who toils to be fair-minded to his workers and simultaneously appease his superiors.
They are all Black.
Needless to say, they each contrast the other with only one thing in common, they all rely on the paycheck which barely reflect their worth.
Through all the break time chatter, assumptions brand each individual to stereotypes familiar in every American workplace.
In the end, perceptions are shattered with revelations baring realities associated with ageing, homelessness, youths, guns, community and corporate greed.
Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson masterfully integrates music with words to weave an enlightening storyline that reveals social inequities, disparities between the haves and have nots and the bare bones realities of Black life.
Socially conscious productions are not commonly reflected on the Great White Way, Santiago-Hudson’s “Skeleton Crew” along with “Clyde’s” joins the shortlist of dramatic presentation willing to bring change and enlightenment to the stage.