Dobama play captures the fight against the Rust Belt
In Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, which opens on January 24, the life of a factory is explored through the relationships forged in its break room.
Of Death of a salesman To Sweat, the fate of the worker remains a rich vein for the American theater. In a place like Cleveland, where factory shutdowns have happened in assembly line fashion for decades, such parts have special relevance. Add to this tradition that of Dominique Morisseau Skeleton crew, from January 24 to February 24. 16 at the Dobama Theater. Located in the break room of a Detroit auto plant where rumors of a shutdown spin, Skeleton crew takes on a reality that many Northeastern Ohio residents face. This is the third MacArthur Fellow play that local theaters are producing this season, and Dobama’s second in two years. Here, Dobama Artistic Director Nathan Motta breaks down the work’s relevance to our region.
Cleveland Magazine: Dobama staged a Dominique Morisseau show, Sunset Baby, last year. Why stage another of his scripts this season?
Nathan Motta: Dominique Morisseau is widely regarded as one of our most important living playwrights. And she’s from Detroit, so in terms of things that might interest regional audiences, or that are topical for [Northeast Ohio]Detroit is not that different, in its history and current obstacles, from Cleveland. Much of what she writes is not only topical for America, but for the Great Lakes region.
CM Which makes Skeleton crew special?
NM When you look at the unions, particularly the United Auto Workers, and the plight of those people over a number of years with the closure of the Lordstown plant and the [General Motors] strike, the basic idea of the play is something that is very current now. But the play also talks about the cycle of poverty, of having a job that was passed down from your family. Or maybe you feel like your prospects are limited because of your upbringing or the community you live in. This cycle is often considered one of the biggest challenges facing American cities. For these reasons, this is an important piece to do. On top of that, it’s very funny. The characters are well drawn and the relationships are really interesting.
CM: What does this relational dynamic look like in the factory break room?
NM: These four characters are almost like a family. There is a situation of second mother with the senior employee of the group [played by Lisa Louise Langford], and two younger characters who have feelings for each other, like a young couple [played by Robert Hunter and Mary-Francis R. Miller], and a pseudo-big brother or an authority figure [played by Ananias J. Dixon].
CM: With a piece of this subject, worry that it might be too much real, or hit too close to home with real fights from members of the public?
NM: I find it to be quite the opposite. As a rule of thumb, whatever story we tell on stage, more people whose lives are closely tied to that story tend to come. If we do a play about two people over 70, we tend to find that a lot of people in their 60s, 70s, or 80s come to this show. If we do a show about mostly people of color, there will be a lot more people of color than we see coming on the show. On the contrary, people are interested in seeing something that they can really relate to that is like their life. And for someone who comes to the show and feels that the specific circumstances of the play are not part of their life experience, not only do they see the show with people who are their experience, but they also always finds the commonalities in their life with the people on stage.