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Reflection on “Skeleton Crew” #wow

After a semester of reading at least 26 plays and talking about them in class, reading a play and not having a space to talk about it feels repressive. I read “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morrisseau and I’m feeling intense emotions and have lots of thoughts that NEED TO COME OUT, AHHHHH.

So I’m using this space.

I’m fascinated by the play’s “outside worlds.” The entire play takes place in the break room of a stamping plant in Detroit, yet there are two places that are simultaneously not present and VERY present. First is the “upstairs world” in the play. “Upstairs” is populated by the white collar workers of the factory — the people who make the decision to downsize, the people who get less affected (or sometimes not affected) by the downsize, and the people who have no idea that the people downstairs have names. In the break room the “upstairs” feels distant and detached. The very architecture of the building looks like hierarchy. One simply steps on the other in this building.

The second “outside world” is the rest of the factory and the many factories that populate Detroit (although, many of them have begun to shut down given the Great Recession). Morrisseau inserts “mechanical intrusions,” as she calls them, that are ethereal, yet not too ethereal to overwhelm the play’s Realism. The mechanical intrusion can be constructed with the use of (an) actor/s  or (a) dancer/s dancing to the beat of the factory, or puppets, or video, or all three. However it’s done, though, there must be a silhouette of a worker or workers that move along with the beat and rhythm of the factory. These scenes brought the mechanical world of the factory to the world of the play without taking us into the actual factory outside of the break room ( a place of commune that feels like a home to these characters — and even serves as a home to one character when this character no longer has one). The mechanical pauses from the break room make the audience feel the omnipresence of the plant; it’s the undertone of the world and permeates every aspect of it.

This ethereal, omnipresent, and mechanical world is ruled by a distinct sound, another aspect of the play I’m fascinated with. It is the merging of the humming and clanking of the machinery with a hip hop beat. They function as one. The humming and clanking is the beat of the factory.

It’s the beat of life for one character. Shanita, one of the factory workers describes it as “life happening” “and “production.” To her, it sounds like life driving forward. It’s even meditative to her: When one character plays music in the break room, Shanita turns it off because she wants to listen to the factory’s sounds. To her, they sound like silence. She breathes in and out, relaxing as she listens to the factory’s soundtrack.

“Skeleton Crew”‘s worlds got me with mouth agape. Please read or watch this play if you haven’t already.


About gbfontenele

Director and dramaturg in training. Free spirit and questioner from the beginning.

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