She strides across the stage with the confidence of a spry mother tiger in her prime, ready to pounce. She lowers herself into the breakroom couch with the near-unbearable weight of the world on her shoulders. She inhales on a cigarette as if it is her last breath on this grimy, wretched earth, and then breezily exhales like she hasn’t a care in the world. She holds everyone else together, knows what they’re going to feel before they do, bears all but never bares all, and in the end, she does what needs to be done.
She is Faye – the UAW blue collar factory worker with 29 years at the auto stamping plant who rules the roost in “Skeleton Crew,” Dominique Morisseau’s powerful show now playing at Center Stage. In this compelling four actor play, “the roost” is the breakroom of a dying auto plant in late-2000s Detroit which is about to become another haunted ghost factory. Faye (played by the incandescent Stephanie Berry) emanates a proud, tempered fierceness as she faces the grim realities of life, both community and personal, and confronts head on that ultimate struggle – to survive this life with one’s soul and dignity intact. In doing so Faye does poetic justice to Morisseau’s multilayered script, which takes on the economic and cultural fallout of the Great Depression, the cost in human livelihood of the disappearance of economic opportunity and the need to arm oneself (literally and figuratively) against the rampant crime which is the result of such desperate uncertainty. Skeleton Crew also tackles the weighty subject of an African-American woman’s lesbianism and the bitter results of her blood family’s lack of acceptance.
So, here’s what you need to do: run, don’t walk, to see our girl Faye and the others in action. The others include Shanita (Brittany Bellizeare), a pregnant young woman whose union membership is her proud birthright and the very blood that courses through her fiery and passionate blood. To Shanita, work on the line is a life’s work that matters, and she radiates a glow that is not so much pregnancy but a conviction of that life’s purpose. For her, the sound of the line in action is music to her ears, the pulse of her mojo in the same way hip hop is for Dez (Gabriel Lawrence) – the young, swaggering, skilled, explosive fellow worker who saltily sweet-talks her during breaks but who is brimming with his own pent-up energy, vibrant dreams, and pulsing secrets.
Rounding out the quartet is Reggie (Sekou Laidlow), a high school dropout who has risen to the ranks of mid-management, thanks to Faye, and who is breaking down a little more each day walking the line between loyalty and camaraderie for those who share his background (Faye, Shanita, and Dez) and the chance for a life of official responsibility. In the latter, he can make enough money to support his family and offer his own children a different kind of childhood and opportunity than he and the others had – a house in a neighborhood where they can breathe and go outside without fear, a bright future – a chance at that elusive American Dream.
The impending closure of the plant and the growing insecurity threatens all four characters in different ways and each struggle is cast in piercing boldness as the story unfolds. Shanita’s dreams of filling her father’s shoes as a union member leave her without the ability to concede to an available job at a copy store. Dez works behind the scenes to fulfill his dream of opening his own garage, all the while battling the stereotypical assumptions of others towards young African-American men walking the streets of Detroit. And Reggie feels himself slipping away under the conflicts and the weight of the closing’s consequences for himself, his family, his future, and those on the line for whom he also feels responsible.
Shimmering in the center of all of them is Faye. She possesses a raw and radical grounding which allows her to hold real conversations. This willingness to take responsibility for her life – her loves, her failures, her truths – forces those around her to take their own responsibility, as well. She is able to somehow understand the paper-thin line we all walk every day: “Any moment any of us could be the other. One minute you passin’ the woman on the freeway holdin’ up the ‘Will Work for Food’ sign. Next minute, you sleepin’ in your car,” she says. Faye is the steely backbone of this powerful Skeleton Crew. Do not miss your chance to know her.
Skeleton Crew is part of the Women’s Voices Festival which showcases the depth and diversity of plays being written, produced, and directed by women. The play is at Center Stage through Sunday, March 4th. Tickets are available at Centerstage.org/plays-and-events/mainstage/skeleton-crew.
- Sage Piper lives on poetry, coffee, the Resistance, and lots of pasta. She works all day supporting those who choose to spend their lives working to improve her beloved Bmore and the lives of her fellow citizens, in every neighborhood. Sage came to Baltimore in the 1980’s to study political science and attend Johns Hopkins University, fell full-swoon into the open, irresistible arms of Charm City, and she has never left. Along the way she has been a restaurant sous chef, a White House intern, an elementary school teacher, an incurable optimist, and a fervent political junkie. On off hours, you can probably find Sage running with Back On My Feet,hanging at Red Emma’s, dancing til dawn, or sipping Zeke’s coffee and buying local produce, pickles, and garlic olives every Saturday morning at the Waverly Farmer’s Market. Sage’s favorite time of year is when Baltimore springs to life amid the crack of baseball bats in the air, both weekend Farmer’s Markets in full swing,and road bikes tuning up for the140-mile ride with many big-hearted soulmates for the Ride For The Feast to raise money and support her favorite mission, Moveable Feast in Baltimore.