‘Skeleton Crew’ takes on a Detroit auto plant

Westport Country Playhouse, Westport: Set in a kitchenette within a Detroit auto factory, Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” focuses on four workers who talk about life and disturbing rumors during their breaks. They ask their union representative, Faye, if it’s true that the factory plans on closing down. She skirts the issue because she has already agreed with management not to say anything. Conflict is immediately established, but there’s far more to come in a good play about moral fabric, community unity, and social justice.

Dez is planning on eventually earning enough money to buy his own business. Shanita, who is very pregnant, works hard and tries to make herself indispensable to guarantee a steady income and a good life for her unborn child. Faye is just trying to survive.

The actors are all excellent, although it takes some time to come around to liking Faye, the lesbian grandmother. She’s a rulebreaking know-it-all, and not a very likeable character. Perri Gaffney steps into this major role with plenty of confidence and street tough. Reggie, played by Sean Nelson, a worker who was promoted to management, seems weak until the second act when he becomes a powerful force. Leland Fowler plays Dez and is a natural. Everything about his performance is believable. Whether he’s caught with a gun in his backpack or kissing Shanita, he’s got enough charm and genuiness to continually come across as a good guy. Toni Martin pays Shanita with a fine line of humor always at the ready to lick her lips. Her performance is as enjoyable as it is memorable.

Mark Lamos, the artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, stated that Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” was like “discovering a lost play by the great August Wilson.”

That’s most complimentary to Morisseau, but in reality “Skeleton Crew” lacks the poetry of Wilson and the perfect balance of moving from exposition to rising action. Because of the latter, the first act sometimes falls into redundancy, while the second act has all the action. Unfortunately, not everyone in the audience on opening night stayed for the second act. They missed the best part.

“Skeleton Crew” is the last part of the “The Detroit Project,” a three-play cycle by Morisseau. Directed by LA Williams, the production’s pace lags in the first act and picks up in the second. Caite Hevner’s authentic set design boasts a flashy and sometimes flashing colorful red background. Chris Lane’s sound design works well except for the opening when the music and flashing lights seem to have little meaning. Xavier Pierce’s lighting design spotlights the action well and Asa Benally’s costumes are most realistic, including Dez’ red sneakers.

The production plays through June 22. Box office: 203-227-4177.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com.