Most middle managers can identify with Reggie, and lots of workers will recognize themselves in "The Skeleton Crew," which New Venture Theatre opens Jan. 25.

The play by Dominique Morisseau marks somewhat of a change for New Venture, which focuses on African-American themes.

"This year, we're celebrating new black voices, but we want to re-imagine the idea of black theater in American theater," says Greg Williams, artistic managing director. "We're focusing on black American pieces across the American landscape that don't necessarily focus on race.

That is the case for "Skeleton Crew."

Morisseau's story reminded Williams of his father, who worked nearly three decades for a regional grocery chain. His dad didn't get laid off, as do the "Skeleton Crew's" characters, but he was a member of the middle class who worked hard at his job.

"This play looks at a generation that has worked their entire lives with nothing to leave their children and a new generation who wants to work but can't," Williams says.

"Skeleton Crew" is set in an auto stamping plant in Detroit during the collapse of the auto industry. Reggie, played by Clarence Crockett, is a middle manager who knows his plant, known as "the last plant standing," is about to close. But upper management forbids him from telling the workers.

"He's caught in the middle," Crockett says. "He knows his job would be in jeopardy if he tells, but his workers are family to him, and he wants to warn them."

It's a position many middle managers know.

"No matter what your race or age is, this is something that so many people can relate to," Williams says. "And it's something that workers can relate to, as well. If they're let go, their lives become chaos. Some of them even resort to crime in order to feed their families."

Joining Crockett in this drama are Byron Wade as Dez, who says what's on his mind; Melica Ndoumba as the young, pregnant Shanita; and Laketa Caston Hosey as Faye, who has been working at the plant for 30 years.

Reggie has taken each of these workers under his wing. They respect him not only because he cares but because he's fair. But even Reggie has to walk a line.

"They see what's happening, and they're all saying, 'Just let us know,'" Crockett says. "It's very relatable."

“Any moment one of us could be the other,” Faye says at one point in the story. "One minute, you're passing the woman on the freeway holding up the ‘will work for food’ sign. Next minute, you're sleeping in your car.”

Faye puts words to what everyone is feeling, which weighs heavily on Reggie. 

"I've done a lot of research on the auto industry when this was happening," Crockett says. "It didn't matter what your background was, you were at risk. With Reggie, that fear is portrayed, but he's also trying to comfort them."

And though the unemployment cloud looms, Williams assures that "Skeleton Crew" isn't a dark story.

"Actually, it's very funny," he says. "It's a story about these people, their interactions and relationships during this crises. And through it all, it makes us look at our humanity."


Skeleton Crew

A New Venture Theatre production

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25-27 and Feb. 1-3; 3 p.m. Jan. 28 and Feb. 4

WHERE: Studio Theatre, Room 105, LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive, LSU campus

TICKETS/INFO: $27, $22 students and groups of 10 or more. (225) 588-7576 or newventuretheatre.org

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.