The “Skeleton Crew” of a play
Faye (Stephanie Berry), Shanita (Brittany Bellizeare) and Dez (Gabriel Lawrence) look through gender-neutral baby names for Shanita's baby. Photo courtesy of Bill Geenen and Baltimore Center Stage.

The “Skeleton Crew” of a play

The third installment in playwright Dominique Morisseau’s play cycle entitled “The Detroit Projects” opened recently at Baltimore Center Stage. “Skeleton Crew,” which tackles the threat of unemployment in a car manufacturing plant during the 2008 auto industry collapse, explores different aspects of loss on a manufacturing line cut down to the minimum number of people needed to keep production going.

The play tracks the last days of Faye (Stephanie Berry), Shanita (Brittany Bellizeare) and Dez (Gabriel Lawrence) as they work through rumors stating their plant will be shut down. Their manager, Reggie (Sekou Laidlow), rounds out the cast and provides a unique perspective on the industry collapse as he tries to take care of his workers even as they begin to turn on him.

Faye, who has worked on the plant for 29 years, is just trying to hold on to October, when her retirement benefits increase as she hits 30 years. As the voice of reason for all within the play, Faye is not without her own secrets. She counsels Reggie as the rumors grow, resulting in some very heartfelt — and often explosive — conversations.

Faye was very close to Reggie’s mother, and after his mother died, helped him find a job at the plant. He goes to her whenever he needs guidance, and her ultimate sacrifice at the end of the play reflects the love she has for him just as much as it does his mother. Berry and Laidlow have a natural harmony and give their characters a great amount of depth as they juggle their more public lives and their private thoughts. The breakout performance of the night, however, belongs to Lawrence, whose portrayal of Dez is just subtle enough to be painstakingly realistic.

Dez is trying to save up to open his own repair shop, and the hours he keeps and his frequent insubordination set him up as the main suspect when parts begin to go missing from the assembly line. He carries a gun in his backpack on the way to work, a detail which, combined with his behavior, frames him as at least guilty of something.

Dez, however, is only trying to protect himself and the people he loves, and Lawrence gives him eccentric mannerisms and heart that have one rooting for him all the way through. There is an undercurrent of romance between Shanita, who is pregnant with a child whose father is out of the picture, and Dez. While their impending kiss feels cheap, their chemistry is anything but.

“Skeleton Crew” is a part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, a two-and-a-half-month-long festival celebrating the work and voices of women playwrights. Most of its artistic team is made up of women, many of whom are making their Center Stage debut. Nicole A. Watson’s direction is refreshingly honest, and Mariana Sanchez’s scenic design reflects the bustle and soul of the break room where it all happens. Honest to the end, “Skeleton Crew” is full of performances and designs one will never forget.

“Skeleton Crew” will be performed at Center Stage until March 4. It has a run time of two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission, and tickets are sold online between $20 and $74.