Acclaimed new play 'Skeleton Crew' opening at Dorset Theatre Festival


DORSET, Vt. — Many things come to mind when hearing the term "skeleton crew," from a horror movie, to a workplace with lean staffing.

But in this case, it's referring to Dorset Theatre Festival's continuation of its summer season, with a play by the same name from Dominique Morisseau's well-regarded Detroit trilogy.

Artistic Director Dina Janis was enthusiastic when she discussed the upcoming run of "Skeleton Crew," directed by Jade King Carroll, noting her connection to its playwright, as well as the work's social significance.

"I have been a fan of Dominique's work ever since she began writing," Janis said. "She is tremendously talented. For me personally, I think her ability to create dialogue that is musical and poetic, as well as her extraordinary ability to create characters that move us, is fierce. This play gave me hope, because it illuminates all that is good in people dealing with oppression and adversity."

The play, Janis continued, takes a look at the 2008 collapse of the auto industry and its impact on black workers in a way "that goes beyond the sound bites and statistics.""Make no mistake, while this play is entertainment, it also allows us to develop a deeper awareness of race, gender and class in contemporary America," Janis said.

The story chronicles a number of characters as they navigate the auto industry downfall.

Faye (Brenda Pressley) has spent her career at one of Detroit's last auto-stamping plants. Shanita (Mirirai Sithole) is pregnant, Dez (Leland Fowler) has a whole future to plan, and their manager, Reggie (Gabriel Lawrence), must balance his debt to his work family with a need to support his family at home.

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As rumors of a plant shutdown persist, these workers must decide what they'll sacrifice to survive. The play is set in Morisseau's native Detroit, and has come to be known as a timely and searing portrait of the trials and tribulations experienced by the African-American working class.

"We like to do plays that are relevant, and move people," Janis said. "I'm a personal fan of stories that get us to care about the characters in them on a human level. This play is all of those things. It is also a hugely important new work being done at major theaters across the country, and Dorset has been placing a greater emphasis at giving such works a voice on our stage."

Dorset's producing director Will Rucker, new in his role at the Vermont theater company this season, agreed with Janis, adding that the play has a strong sense of place that the audience will pick up quickly.

"`Skeleton Crew' is an important story but it's also an exciting story, since the plot is full of surprises, but sort of the biggest surprise is that, at every juncture, the characters have no choice but to keep on going," Rucker said. "I love when you can tell where a play is set by the rhythm of its language. Dominique Morisseau captures Detroit with a lot of beauty and a lot of respect for the city and for the working class people her play is about."

Janis nodded at Rucker's assessment, adding that several touches to the play — music and digital projection — will play a role in drawing the audience into a "Detroit frame of mind."

"One thing that folks may not expect and will experience when they come is the music, the Detroit sound," Janis said. "Dominique integrates music and allows it to help frame the world in which this play takes place. We'll also be using projection design, something we have integrated into our productions of `Outside Mullingar' and `Dear Elizabeth.' We're very excited about this additional design layer and how it will help endow the world we have created here."

"Skeleton Crew," which will run a bit over two hours, with one 15-minute intermission, features scenic design by Kristen Robinson, costumes by Alice Tavener, lighting by Michael Giannitti, sound design by Karin Graybash, and projection design by Joey Moro. The stage manager is Emely Zepeda.

"The cast and crew have put their hearts so deeply into this play," Janis said. "The emotional power of this play is going to surprise folks. It's the kind of play that asks the actors to be playing at the top of their game, with full commitment. Our audiences are going to fall in love with the humor, the depth of feeling and the power of the narrative."


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