Trinity Rep’s “Death of a Salesman” is so overpowering a piece of theatre, making it impossible for any companion play to measure up to its standards.
Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew,” which deals with a similar issue, lacks the intensity and cohesion of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece. Set in a break room in a Detroit car factory in 2008, “Skeleton Crew” deals with the downsizing of the industry and its effect on four of its employees. Director Tiffany Nichole Greene uses the same space, adding a background of sights and sounds that give us a sense of the factory.
The break room is the escape, where rumors of layoffs and closings shake the lives of four employees who, like Willie Loman, depend on their jobs to survive.
Reggie (Jude Sandy) has risen to the position of supervisor and must walk that difficult thin line between carrying out the orders of his superiors and taking care of his team. His three charges are a handful. Dez (Will Adams) is a good worker but has trouble controlling his anger, while feeling little commitment to a company that shows little commitment to him. Shanita (Shenyse LeAnna Harris) is pregnant and carrying around more baggage. Faye (Lizan Mitchell) is close to retirement, having dedicated her life to the company with nothing to show for it.
While the four characters have their own strengths and weaknesses, they are at the mercy of their employer and face an uncertain future, much like Willie Loman. The four actors all give memorable performances, making you feel for them and their problems, in spite of their weaknesses.
The first act moves ever so slowly in establishing the situation. I had trouble understanding much of the dialogue and humor, blaming my age and hearing loss until I got the same reaction from others at intermission. (The younger audience members seemed to catch more of the humorous phrases.) The second act opens with a funny metaphorical soliloquy by Shanita about her drive to work, where people had no knowledge or desire to merge.
Reggie finds himself in a no-win situation as the action picks up a bit, and all four characters are affected by a situation that Reggie can’t fix, in spite of the time he spends “thinkin’ about it.”
Like the characters in “Death of a Salesman,” Dez, Shanita, Faye and Reggie realize that life ain’t always fair, but they can still dream for a better life.
“Skeleton Crew” is performed in the downstairs Dowling Theatre at Trinity Rep. through November 26. Check 351-4242 or go online at trinityrep.com for times and prices.