Khalia Denise, Kermit Thomas, Alisha Hanes, and Anthony Mitchell in Skeleton Crew

Had I gone by the sudden chilly weather, or the title of the play itself, I would have assumed I was on my way to a night of frights at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre. Despite its name and October debut, however, there were no scares to be had on Friday – unless, that is, you jump a little at the sight of the word “layoffs.” Skeleton Crew, written by Dominique Morisseau and directed here by Marquita Reynolds, is a solid stage experience and worth seeing.

The action takes place during the winter of 2008, at the Stamping Plant in Detroit. We meet only four employees of the plant: the titular crew. There’s Faye (Alisha Hanes), the union rep who may or may not be sleeping inside the plant. Another worker, Dez (Anthony Mitchell), has dreams of starting his own business and building something himself. Their counterpart Shanita (Khalia Denise) is several months pregnant and working every hour she can get. And then there’s Reggie (Kermit Thomas), the foreman who’s caught between taking care of the company he works for and the employees he cares about.

There are rumors of layoffs swirling around while Faye and Reggie strike a deal to keep the truth about those layoffs under wraps. It’s gripping stuff, and the slow unspooling of the characters and their connections to one another is well-executed by Morisseau. The cherry on top is that all of this is more relevant than ever, “thanks” to the ongoing strikes from the United Auto Workers and SAG-AFTRA, as well as the recent strikes of Kaiser Permanente employees and the WGA.

Khalia Denise and Anthony Mitchell in Skeleton Crew

When you enter Playcrafters' auditorium, you’re greeted with a convincing break room designed by Craig Cohoon. There’s a gorgeously painted cement treatment over the entire stage, with a sprawling window upstage and a mostly stocked kitchenette. Cohoon's attention to detail is impressive, with the set including a working punch clock and even a working microwave (though the coffee pot occasionally poured from was suspiciously devoid of any liquid during Friday’s performance). The action is admirably staged by Reynolds, who does a great job of employing the whole length of Playcrafters’ thrust stage. Actors rarely dwell in one spot too long, and at many points throughout the evening, characters seem to break free of their story and speak directly to the audience. Using the proximity of the actors to the audience in order to mirror the crew's openness is an inspired choice by Reynolds.

All of the performances here are wonderful. Hanes grounds Skeleton Crew's story and commands the stage. Mitchell is charming and engaging, and the small gasps I heard among Friday's crowd were well-earned. Thomas really sells the mounting panic of the foreman as his situation only becomes more and more difficult. But for me, Denise was the standout of the evening. She is so natural onstage it doesn’t even seem like she’s acting; she’s simply, fantastically being. And as much as they shine individually, these actors glow when they start playing off one another. The chemistry between everyone is effortless, creating an effect of being a fly on the wall.

As with nearly all live theatre, Friday night's performance wasn't without its hiccups. What I’ll chalk up to a bad case of opening-night jitters led to some line issues, with some extra-long pauses and repeated lines here and there. There was also a part of the upstage wooden platform that was mischievously squeaky. I wouldn’t normally mention something like this, if not for the fact that one of the performers had a large and dramatic moment smack dab in the middle of the squeak, and every shift of weight or footstep prompted another groan from the floor that drowned out many of his words.

Kermit Thomas and Alisha Hanes in Skeleton Crew

But the most frustrating parts of the evening, for me, were the leisurely scene changes down-right. I understand that they’re a necessary evil in shows that feature them. After all, actors need time to change costumes, props need to be struck or added … . The list goes on. I would describe most scene changes in most shows as sprints, with the lights slamming off and bodies running around in the dark, getting everything set for the show to go on as quickly as possible. But there didn't appear to be a sprint in sight on Friday. A power-walk, maybe. It was a frustration that was only compounded as the night went on, as there were So. Many. Scene changes. I’d wager that between five and 10 minutes of the production are spent in the dark listening to Eric Teeter's rather confused and inconsistent sound design.

I don’t mean to deter you from attending this show overall. I recommend the play! Most of the issues I had could all be pinned on attending an “off” night, and I hope they’re ironed out before the second weekend, if they weren't already by last Saturday. Skeleton Crew might not set your theatrical world on fire, but it’s something fresh that you probably haven’t seen before, and it’s filled with fantastic performances. And if theatre is about experiencing new perspectives (as I like to think it is), Playcrafters' latest is a marvelous opportunity for much of the QC theatre-going audience to experience something new.


Skeleton Crew runs at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre (4950 35th Avenue, Moline IL) through October 15, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-0330 and visiting

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