Arts News: We Discuss "Skeleton Crew" and "SCT Sings"
Director Rick Dines reunites actors from Springfield Contemporary Theatre's acclaimed production of "A Raisin in the Sun" to bring to Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza the third play in Dominique Morisseau’s “Detroit Project,” titled “Skeleton Crew.”
Says Dines, "Dominique Morriseau is a wonderful, wonderful, relatively new American playwright--she's been writing and working for maybe the last decade, but really has found a lot more success in the last couple of years. She's a Detroit native, and has written these three plays--they aren't sequels to each other, but are three plays set in Detroit, set against the backdrop of major points of Detroit's history over the past century. The first is set in the late 1940s against the backdrop of the gentrification of the jazz area of the city (Paradise Alley) and a lot of the jazz clubs being pushed out. The second is set against the backdrop of the 1967 riots. And this third play is set against the backdrop of the decline in the auto industry in early 2008 that precipitated the bailout of the industry."
"Skeleton Crew" follows co-workers at a Detroit auto stamping plant—one of the last small-parts plants in Detroit—in early 2008. Each of the workers has to make tough choices on how to move forward if their plant goes under—which appears highly likely. “This play,” says Dines, “deals with the topic, but it’s more about these characters, and it’s more about their situation. All the other small-parts plants had closed, or moved overseas at this point, and the staff sees the writing on the wall. So, it’s about these individuals navigating what could come. But at the same time it’s really about the spirit of Detroit, and the resiliency of the people of Detroit. And it’s a very hopeful play—even though you sit hear watching it, going, ‘Well, we know ultimately what’s going to befall these individuals,’ and we know historically what happened as 2008 pushed on. Nonetheless, there is such a sense of hope and resiliency amongst these characters, who kind of their own family unit of sorts, these co-workers who are very good friends.”
Angelia King plays Faye Davidson. “She is a union rep at the company. And she herself has issues to deal with in her own personal life. It’s just a process that she’s having to go through, dealing with telling the people that depend on her what’s going on. She has to be the bearer of bad news—big time.”
Among the other characters, there’s Shanita, played by Christina Gardner, who has to decide how she’ll support herself and her unborn child if the plant folds; she’s three months pregnant as the play begins. Mikil Hernandez plays Dez, a young man who has been saving up to open his own auto shop, and needs the income from the auto stamping plant to help make his dreams a reality. Reggie, played by Jon Herbert, came up through the ranks as a fellow assembly-line employee with the others, and has now been promoted to management—shift foreman. “He’s caught between his allegiance to these people he’s worked with for so long, and management, and having to navigate the waters between the two,” according to director Rick Dines, who adds that Jon Herbert is giving a “marvelous performance” in the part, as are the other cast members. “The characters are unforgettable and really delightful, and these performances are great. And there are lots of little twists and turns through it that you don’t expect.
“One thing, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away—Faye, we come to realize very early on, is basically sleeping in the break room. And we kind of wonder why, and we come full circle to find out the bank took her house,” says Dines—one of the major “issues” Angelia King mentioned that her character was having to work through. “So here’s the person who’s there to fight for her co-workers,” and King finishes Dines’s sentence—“and she’s having to fight for herself as well.”
Rick Dines admits that, based on the description thus far, “it sounds like an extremely heavy show. But the delightful thing is, there’s so much family camaraderie among this group of people. There’s so much fun in their interaction that, even though their situation looks bleak, they have fun together.” Angelia King promises “several comedic moments from the top to the last.”
Dines adds that “Skeleton Crew” has been among the top five most-produced plays in the United States over the past two years. “We’re thrilled to bring this play, which is very much a part of the American dialogue right now, to our audiences. I mean, manufacturing plants are still closing around the country at a very rapid rate. So it’s definitely something that’s still extremely relatable.”
This production contains adult language and content. It was going to open last night, but due to the weather SCT decided to make Saturday night the opening night of the run, which continues through March 9. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm; Thursdays are “Pay What You Can” nights. There will be two post-performance Talkbacks with the show's cast and director after the Sunday Feb.24 matinee and the Thursday Feb.28 evening performance. Tickets range $24-$27, with $10 student rush tickets.
We also discussed Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s revamped monthly concert series, “SCT Sings,” presented on Sunday and Monday evenings during the run of an SCT mainstage production. Rick Dines says the company revamped their former “Sunday Songbook Series”. “It was usually one or two individuals coming in and doing a solo or duo evening, or a soloist with a band or something.” SCT revamped and relaunched the series in December 2018. “This setup,” says Rick Dines, “is our regular Music Director Alex Huff with a small group of four or five musicians, (who) will back a grouping of six to eight singers performing songs that tie to a theme—usually composer-based, an evening celebrating or examining a certain composer, either from musical theatre or otherwise. This is the first composer-driving ‘SCT Sings’ concert, and this focuses on Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who wrote, amongst other things, the musical ‘Ragtime;” they also wrote ‘Anastasia’ that’s on Broadway now, ‘Once On This Island,’ which just closed on Broadway, ‘Seussical,’ ‘Lucky Stiff,’ and on and on and on. They are a very accomplished songwriting team that have written for stage and screen. Lynn Ahrens was one of the main writers of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ so she’s been around for quite a while.”
The vocalists for these shows are not what one would necessarily consider the “SCT Stock Company,” i.e. all the usual suspects, because each installment of the series is cast from open auditions, according to Dines. “There is some new talent in these that hasn’t performed with us before.”
“SCT Sings Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty” will be performed Sunday and Monday Feb. 17 and 18 both at 7:30pm at SCT Center Stage; tickets are $15 seniors and students, $17 adults, with the usual $10 Student Rush right before curtain time.
For information on, or tickets to, either show, call the SCT box office at 831-8001 or visit www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.