CHESTER — Chester Theatre Company artistic director Daniel Elihu Kramer has a keen sense of occasion. Dominique Morisseau's new play, "Pipeline," opened Monday night at Lincoln Center in New York.to strongly favorable reviews.
By quirk of scheduling, on "Pipeline's" heels, another Morisseau play, "Skeleton Crew," has opened at Chester Theatre Company's Town Hall Theatre, where it is scheduled to run through July 23.
"Skeleton Crew" has had only one other production — Old Globe in San Diego — since its Off-Broadway premiere last year at Atlantic Theatre Company. But the play is about to make its presence known over the coming fall, winter and spring months with planned productions at a host of regional theaters in, among other cities, Baltimore, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Boston, Providence, Skokie, Ill., and Detroit, where "Skeleton Crew" is set and Morisseau was raised.
It is the third play in Morisseau's Detroit Trilogy — the others are "Detroit '67" (premiered 2013 in New York), set within the context of the Detroit riots; and "Paradise Blue" (premiered 2015 at Williamstown Theatre Festival}, set in a jazz club/hotel in a well-known black neighborhood in 1940s Detroit that is being earmarked for urban renewal — which examines the ways in which black lives mattered in post-World War II Detroit during signal periods.
"It feels exciting to have this playwright [Morisseau was on American Theatre magazine's list of the 20 most produced playwrights in America in the 2015-16 season with 10 productions of her plays] and play here," Kramer told the Berkshire Eagle..
"I think Daniel had tremendous insight bringing this play to Chester," the production's director, Awoye Timpo, said during a recent pre-rehearsal interview one pleasant, balmy weekend morning, sitting on a bench at the top of Chester's Main Street just a few yards from Chester Theatre Company's offices.
"They have so much energy and life," she said of Morisseau's people. "They are such fully fleshed out, mesmerizing characters."
Set during the Great Recession of 2008, "Skeleton Crew" unfolds in the break room of a Detroit automobile stamping plant. The play focuses on four black workers — Faye, a union rep in her mid- to late-50s; Dez, a playful, solid worker who is in his mid-to late 20s who also is something of a hustler; Shanita, pregnant, devoted to her work, in her mid- to late 20s; and Reggie, their supervisor, a black man in his late 30s who, with a wife, two children and newly bought house, is only just beginning to realize his share of the American dream. Each is wrestling with the impending closing of the plant and what that closing will mean for each of them.
"You have to remember the irony," Timpo said. "The Founding Fathers were slave-owners. It never occurred to them that the American Dream would someday extend to everyone."
Like the other two plays in Morisseau's trilogy, "Skeleton Crew" examines just how hard it is for blacks to achieve the American Dream and asks, she says "what is the responsibility of the people in charge to the people they are in charge of.
"How do you protect yourself?" Timpo asked rhetorically. "We know this story from our personal lives.
I think this is a quintessentially American story."
She paused, glancing for a moment down Chester's Main Street.
"How much it means," she said, acknowledging the irony, "to be doing this play in what was once a factory town."
Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212