When Motor City breaks down, it seems like the American Dream is breaking down with it. The Alley Theatre offers Houston audiences a glimpse into what it was like to live through the Great Recession in a Detroit automobile factory with their new show “Skeleton Crew.”
Skeleton Crew is set in 2008 at the start of the Great Recession. The entire show takes place in the dusty breakroom of one of Detroit’s last auto stamping plants.
The intimate Neuhaus Theater puts you in the center of the action. My seat was three feet from their breakroom lockers. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of yelling in the show, which is stressful when you’re sitting so close and the actors are so good you forget it’s not real.
The four characters are not just co-workers, they are a makeshift family who share their stories and dreams. With the whispers of the factory closing, the relationships, trust and power dynamics of these four comrades are shifted and tested.
I found the show to be incredibly insightful. I’ll admit that I have never worked at a company that was a risk of shutting down or that did mass layoffs. While we all heard and read about how the economic downturn affected the Rust Belt, I never imagined what the day-to-day life would be like at a factory that is grinding to a halt.
The factory workers each take deep personal pride in the work that they do. They are working in the same industry as their parents, creating well-made cars that could save someone’s life. When the industry and the factory are threatened, so is their way of life. They each have to think how they will survive the upheaval if their work and jobs do not.
My favorite character is Reggie (David Rainey), a supervisor who walks the line between protecting the blue-collar class he came from and climbing the company ladder to create a better life for his family. Rainey portrays both a genuine care, and the madness caused by the company culture of viewing workers as interchangeable, replaceable and disposable machine parts.
Part of what makes the play feels authentic is that playwright Dominique Morisseau is a Detroit native. She is the author of The Detroit Project, a three-play cycle, which includes Skeleton Crew, Paradise Blue and Detroit ’67.
“Skeleton Crew” runs Sep. 7 through Oct. 7. Tickets are available at alleytheatre.org. With a valid student ID, tickets are $16 for non-prime performances and $26 for prime performances (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees). If purchasing online, use the promo code STUDENT.