Theater review: Guthrie’s impactful ‘Skeleton Crew’ showcases best of Yellow Tree’s earlier staging

13 May 2024

When Osseo’s Yellow Tree Theatre presented the local premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” in early 2020, it brought audiences into the lives of four workers at a Detroit plant that manufactures components for the auto industry, a workplace soon facing closure as the recession of 2008 and beyond takes hold.

Its resonance grew within a fortnight of its closing when COVID-19 swept the country and emptied almost every American workplace save hospitals and industries deemed “essential.” Suddenly, the idea of a vanishing work life felt more prescient.

Four years later, the Guthrie Theater has admirably chosen to bring “Skeleton Crew” to a wider audience. And it’s made the wise choice of not only hiring that production’s director, Austene Van — artistic director of both Yellow Tree and that show’s co-producer, New Dawn Theater — but also half of its cast and its costume designer, as well.

What they and their theatrical collaborators have brought to the Guthrie’s proscenium stage is a very involving exploration of four lives on the verge of tremendous change. Playwright Morisseau masterfully captures the voices of these four Black auto workers as they express their anxieties, hopes and quandaries, her ear for natural conversation extraordinary.

The setting for “Skeleton Crew” is the factory’s break room (created with all the right elements of disrepair and officiousness by set designer Regina Garcia). It’s there we’re introduced to four people with four distinctly different relationships with their work.

Stephanie Everett (Shanita) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of “Skeleton Crew,” Dominique Morisseau’s drama about the workers at a Detroit auto plant, as they deal with the recession of 2008, the decline of their industry and the possible closure of their plant. The show runs through June 9, 2024 at the Minneapolis theater. (Dan Norman / Guthrie Theater)

Union rep Faye feels her life indelibly interwoven with the factory after 29 years there, and the pregnant Shanita finds the place inspiring, tying her self-worth tightly to the quality of her work. Meanwhile, Dez is looking to go into business for himself, and Reggie has been promoted to the role of a tie-wearing supervisor and is feeling the pressure of having to help execute the plant’s downsizing and demise.

All four have secrets that precipitate conflicts, making “Skeleton Crew” feel something like a series of explosions bridged by engaging exchanges between four people who seem to genuinely care for one another. So impactful are the arguments that you may fear that we could land in a place of devastating heartbreak. To Morisseau’s credit, she defies theatrical convention by going in a different direction.

Van has helped shape four captivating portrayals, none more magnetic than Jennifer Fouché’s Faye. It’s a remarkably detailed portrait of a woman projecting strength but hiding an internal tempest, and Fouché makes her fascinating, each growl, biting exclamation and conciliatory word feeling remarkably genuine.

She’s complemented well by Stephanie Everett’s sweet but street tough Shanita, the bringer of dreams to the break room (both literal and figurative). And Darius Dotch has played so many pillars of strength on local stages that it’s disarming to find him so fully inhabiting such a hotbed of anxiety and indecision as Reggie. Equally true-to-life is Mikell Sapp’s conflicted Dez.

When the discord between Reggie and Dez reaches its boiling point, the tension is thick. Yet Dotch and Sapp have been having believable onstage confrontations ever since the 2011 Pillsbury House production of Nathan Louis Jackson’s “Broke-ology.” Here’s hoping this powerful production of “Skeleton Crew” inspires Guthrie audiences to investigate the ample talent at smaller stages like Yellow Tree and Pillsbury House.

‘Skeleton Crew’

When: Through June 9

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 Second St. S., Mpls.

Tickets: $82-$17, available at 612-377-2224 or

Capsule: A finely crafted drama about the why of work.

Rob Hubbard can be reached at [email protected].

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