(Sheelah Kolhatkar’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 1/3 and 1/10; illustration of Joshua Boone by João Fazenda.)
The cast of “Skeleton Crew,” Dominique Morisseau’s play about Black auto-plant workers facing rumors of a shutdown, takes a field trip to check out the set.
Most attempts to translate the 2008 financial crisis to stage or screen, such as “The Big Short,” “Margin Call” and “The Lehman Trilogy,” have focussed on the shenanigans inside Manhattan skyscrapers, where men in suits concoct financial grenades with acronyms like C.D.O. (collateralized debt obligation) and M.B.S. (mortgage-backed security). “Skeleton Crew,” a play written by Dominique Morisseau that is scheduled to open on Broadway in January, takes a different view, showing what happened to a group of Black auto-plant workers after the grenades exploded.
On a recent morning, the cast of “Skeleton Crew” took a field trip to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, on West Forty-seventh Street, to see the set. “It’s our first time. I’m nervous,” said Joshua Boone, who plays Dez, a Detroit assembly-line worker described in Morisseau’s script as a “young hustler, playful, street-savvy and flirtatious.”
The play follows Dez; two other workers, Faye (“Tough and a lifetime of dirt beneath her nails”) and Shanita (“Pretty but not ruled by it. . . . Also, pregnant”); and Reggie (“White collar man. Studious. Dedicated. Compassionate”) as rumors of a shutdown fly around their auto plant. The action all takes place in a break room.
Morisseau, who won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018, arrived with her infant son in a stroller. The play’s director, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, rushed to greet her. “Hey! The little warrior is in the house!”
The actors, wearing masks and winter coats, walked the perimeter of the stage and peered around. Adesola Osakalumi, who choreographed the show and dances in it, strode back and forth through a hidden door, glided to the center of the stage, and curtsied. Metal lockers lined one wall.
“As we start tricking out the set, I want you guys to start thinking about what you would have hanging in your lockers,” Santiago-Hudson told them. “What do you want to see every day? A blank wall? Or do you want to see pictures of family? Or do you want to see a car? Is there a team that you’re rooting for? Is there a boxer that you like? I implore you all to have something personal.”
Phylicia Rashad, who plays Faye, stood at her locker and cocked her head. Santiago-Hudson opened the metal door and furrowed his brow. “We got some big-ass coats,” he said. “I don’t know how you’re gonna get a big coat in there.”
“I don’t, either,” Rashad said.
Downstage, Boone was opening and closing his locker. Click! Slam! “My boot won’t fit,” he said, trying to wedge his sneaker onto the bottom shelf.