Short review of Skeleton Crew at the Atlantic Theater

Skeleton Crew, a play at the Atlantic Theater’s Stage 2 in NYC, is a really fine, moving play by  Dominique Morisseau, a playwright whom I was not familiar with before. It concerns four workers in a Detroit auto plant in 2008, when there was a virtual collapse of U.S. manufacturing. The play opens as there is word that a sister factory has just shut down, and before the first act is over, it’s obvious that this factory is being prepared for the chopping block as well.

As the play progresses, we slowly learn about the lives and hopes of four people who work in the factory — Dez (Jason Dirden), an ambitious and angry young man; Reggie (Wendell B. Franklin), who made it from the factory floor into lower management; Shanita (Nikiya Mathis), a soon-to-be single mother who is proud of her work and her independence; and Faye (Lynda Gravatt), a union rep who is nearing her 30-year retirement. The entire action takes place in the break room of the factory and the actors do an incredible job of bringing the characters to life.

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My mother, who saw the play with me, also thought the actors did a splendid job and liked the play; however, she felt the resolution at the end was a bit pat and somewhat forced. I didn’t have that issue; perhaps because I was so caught up in the characters’ problems and conflicts, both external and internal.

I only do occasional reviews of plays and/or books, but in this case, I wanted to promote what I think is a really excellent slice of life about a group of people to whom attention should have been paid. Skeleton Crew runs through February 14th; if you have a chance to see it, I recommend it.

 

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Went to see Our New Girl at the Atlantic Theater

Last Saturday, I went to see the play Our New Girl at the Atlantic Theater’s Stage 2. It’s a really interesting production; the playwright, Nancy Harris, skillfully sets up our expectations for each character and then completely turns them around.

Our New Girl is about an upper-middle-class London family with what is politely known as issues. The mother is a former corporate lawyer who, after quitting her job to better care for her young son, is trying desperately to figure out her place in the world by starting an olive oil export business, and trying to figure out how to deal with her obviously troubled boy. The father is an overtly charitable plastic surgeon who regularly goes to troubled areas in other parts of the world to help people damaged by war and disease — and away from his family. The son is a rather mysterious eight-year-old who says little but sees a lot, and occasionally bursts out in violent ways. And the new nanny (hired by the father without the knowledge of the mother) is a young, outwardly caring Irish young woman who is more damaged (by a mother’s suicide and father’s abuse) than she at first lets on.

It’s very well acted and written, and as several reviewers have noticed (such as Charles Isherwood, whose own review expresses pretty much how I felt about the play), comes across both as a thriller and a domestic drama. I found the ending particularly satisfying (which is unusual these days, when I find the endings of many play and films either too pat or too up-in-the-air).

Our New Girl is only playing until June 29th, but if you’re looking for a play to attend that is not a Broadway blockbuster (and that you don’t have to pawn your computer to afford), you could do a lot worse.

Thoughts on a play: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Most people who know, or at least have heard of, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, know it as a 1962 film starring Tom Courtenay, who played Colin Smith, a working class young man who escapes his bleak situation by long-distance running. The film started as a 1959 short story by Alan Sillitoe; its latest incarnation is an adaptation by Roy Williams that is playing at Atlantic Theater 2. It’s only playing until Feb. 9th, so if you get a chance, go.

The play has been tweaked to fit today’s issues: Colin is now the son of African immigrants dealing with the same problems of poverty, misunderstanding and disaffection that his previous incarnation suffered in the early 1960s. However, his problems stem less from the class issues that were still lingering in British society in the late 1950s/early 1960s  than modern racism; there are continual references to the London riots of August, 2011.

The cast is, I have to say, superb. Sheldon Best as Colin turns in a wonderfully nuanced performance in a very difficult role — he is onstage constantly, and makes many of his more important speeches while moving or jogging (much to admiration of much of the audience, judging from the conversation in the ladies room afterwards). Charles Isherwood of the New York Times expressed disappointment that Best didn’t turn in the moody, introverted performance that Courtenay was justly celebrated for, but this Colin comes from a different background and lives in different times, and his lively interpretation of an intelligent, confused and rebellious young man is as legitimate and searing.

The entire cast is excellent as well, including Zainab Jah as Colin’s exasperated mother, Joshua Nelson as his best friend, Jasmine Cephas Jones as his girlfriend, Patrick Murney in the double role of a prison bully and a tough policeman, and Todd Weeks as a paternalistic social worker. The director, Leah C. Gardiner, deserves kudos as well for assembling them into a very effective whole.

To tell you the truth, the movie version of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is one of those films where I recognized the high quality of the production without being touched emotionally. I can’t say the same about this production. It is both excellent and affecting.