Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau opens at the Manhattan Theater Club

On Wednesday night on Broadway, “Skeleton Crew,” the finale of seven new plays written by black playwrights to debut this season, opened to an intimate crowd at the Manhattan Theater Club’s Friedman Theater. The show was embraced by an audience that included Danielle Brooks, Denée Benton and La Chanze but stripped, like the factory it represents, of the usual pomp and circumstance of a flashy Broadway opening.

“Skeleton Crew,” the third work in Detroit-based Dominique Morisseau’s trilogy of plays, finds five workers at a Michigan auto plant — dogged by a corrosive city around them, the callous unpredictability of their employers, and the impending devastation of unemployment as the workplace, the last of the city’s independent auto factories, inevitably closes.

On Broadway, where the cast and crew of “Skeleton Crew” faced a rocky season of cancellations, two opening night postponements and an industry that nearly shut down again, the story of Morisseau’s work and conflicts has become deliberately prophetic.

“All season, we’ve seen other shows, like other factories, shut down,” Morisseau said on the ongoing opening night call, flanked by the show’s director, Ruben Santiago- Tony winner Hudson and his cast, led by Tony winner Phylicia Rashad. .

“I stand here on the shoulders of the factory workers who built my family, who built my city, and I don’t know how a theater worker could ever see this play and never see themselves in a theater worker again. automotive,” she said.

“The UAW members I spoke to, they wanted people to know that they’re not just fighting for autoworker rights,” Morisseau continued. “They are fighting for human rights, because within every labor movement are human rights, and so the labor movement that we see in our field today is a human rights movement. the man.”

Like other plays this season, including Lynne Nottage’s “Clyde’s,” Morisseau brings to Broadway a play primarily about the rights and lives of workers — grappling with the structural inequalities of post-imprisonment life in the case of Nottage, and the economic recession in Morisseau’s – but the workers just the same. As Morisseau suggests, this is no coincidence.

The line between workers and management – ​​often evoked by the foreman of “Skeleton Crew”, intangible but impressed by a caste-like system of work in American factories – has returned this year in professional associations and unions on Broadway , as theater workers organized, protested and demanded fairness for unfair labor policies and DEI.

“We have to remember the days when there were great labor movement plays, like ‘Big Time Buck White,'” director Santiago-Hudson said. Variety, comparing Morisseau’s work to the archives of Black Power plays in the late 1960s. “She pays homage to that work,” he said.

True, “Skeleton Crew” is doing its own job this season, Santiago-Hudson recalled. “When historians look back, there will never be an asterisk indicating that we all knew these coins were not going to recoup their investments,” he said. Variety, describing the weight black playwrights must bear to revive Broadway this season.

“We have to ask ourselves questions,” he continued. “Who would collide with the hurricane? Those who need it most. The hungriest. And in all of American life, it’s always been African Americans who have stood up to do that.

For Rashad — whose own on-stage legacy heralded playwrights like August Wilson and reflected the undeniable truth that black performers shaped the arc of American theater — returning to the stage after the industry shut down meant an artistic rebound.

“The mastery continues, and the theater artists and audiences are grateful for it,” she said. Variety. “As the old saying goes, ‘You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry.’ We took so much for granted, and being able to come together is a privilege and a blessing.