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‘Skeleton Crew,’ an award-winning play, explores how a factory closure changes a city

In the play, four characters grapple with the pending closure of an automotive factory.

The cast of "Skeleton Crew" at Bristol Riverside Theatre: (from left) Malik Childs, Lisa Strum, Marquis Wood, and Joell Weil.
The cast of "Skeleton Crew" at Bristol Riverside Theatre: (from left) Malik Childs, Lisa Strum, Marquis Wood, and Joell Weil.Read moreTori Repp

Dominique Morisseau’s prize-winning play, Skeleton Crew, about the aftermath of an automotive factory’s closing, is set in Detroit. But it could have just as easily taken place in Bristol Borough, home of Bristol Riverside Theatre, which is staging Morisseau’s work.

In the play, four characters grapple with the pending closure of an auto factory and how it will upend their lives. “It synthesizes the conversation that we are having about losing jobs,” said Cameron Knight, who is directing Skeleton Crew in Bristol. “So many people who watch it will know that story. Everyone’s got that in common — businesses leaving and people being left in the wake.”

Skeleton Crew won Morisseau the 2016 Obie Award Special Citation for Collaboration along with director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and the Atlantic Theater Company. The play also won the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award in 2015.

Since the Civil War era, Bristol has experienced cycles of revival and loss as factories opened, then closed. During the Civil War, government spending pumped money into the Bucks County borough, bringing employment into forges and textile mills. Those businesses died out, but, in 1861, a visionary local businessman Joshua Peirce built an industrial park with planing mills and foundries. Only one of those buildings remains today.

In the late 1800s and into the mid-1900s, there was another revival, with textiles and carpet-making driving the economy. In 1910, the town’s businesses produced $12 million worth of goods. Originally known as Bristol Worsted Mills, the Grundy Mills complex, with its 13 buildings, employed 850 people in 1915.

While that thriving textile business no longer exists, many of the old industrial buildings remain in what is now known as the Bristol Industrial Historic Business District. Some house new businesses.

“You can tell from the bones what it used to be,” said Knight, who grew up in Flint, Mich., and can see the similarities in Detroit and Bristol.

“There’s tremendous pride here, but it’s missing that thing that drove it,” he said. The audience “can see themselves and there’s someone giving voice to their fears, their hopes, and their anger. I think a play like this could really resonate with them.”

Knight leads the acting program at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, but his connection to Bristol Riverside Theatre goes back several years to when he taught acting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Ken Kaissar, coproducing director at Bristol Riverside Theatre, saw Knight in the classroom and asked Knight if he’d ever consider directing a production in Bucks County.

Yes, Knight would consider it, but it seemed impossible, given the distance. COVID-19 and career intervened, and Knight’s recent arrival at Rutgers meant he was close enough to move from consideration to contract, now directing an all-Black cast at Bristol.

Through Nov. 21, Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol. Masks and vaccine proof are required. For information and tickets, 215-785-0100,

‘Young Money’: From joke to play

Sometimes inspiration starts as a joke. That’s how Erlina Ortiz, the co-artistic director and resident playwright of Power Street Theatre, came to write Young Money, produced by Azuka Theatre. Joking with fellow writers at a writers’ retreat, she declared that was going to pen a play about Cardi B, then an up-and-coming rapper.

“They laughed and said, ‘You should,’ ” Ortiz recalled.

“I laughed, ‘Haha, yeah, right.’ ”

But something stuck and the result is Young Money about a profane, funny, sexy, and rich rapper named Tomasina aka Kila-T.

Kila-T wasn’t always rich — she worked a lot of menial jobs on her way to stardom. Now she’s loving life at the top. But one day, an incident at a concert forces her to cooperate with Gardenia, an elegant woman in her 50s who was laid off from her banking job and now works backstage cleaning Kila-T’s dressing room. For Gardenia, the job is a bitter step down.

The lessons they learn from each form the backdrop of the play.

“Sex, power, and money — these things are taboo for women to talk about,” said Ortiz. Do artists with the kind of platform that Cardi B has have the obligation to address society’s most serious problems, or can they just enjoy being sexy, rich, and famous?

Can everyone just be without judgment?

“We have these two women unpacking these topics of sex, money, and power,” Ortiz said, mirroring “the conversations we hold within ourselves and within society and the way we hold these contradictions within ourselves.”

How women express power, sexuality and wealth is part of the conversation today’s society is having about feminism, she said.

Briana Gause directs, Angela Bey is Kila-T, and Johanna Tolentino plays Gardenia. Tolentino, by the way, got her first break at the age of 16, appearing in Lean on Me, with Morgan Freeman.

Young Money isn’t Ortiz’s only project. Ortiz and Power Street Theatre just completed registration for ¿Que Lo Que?, a bilingual production through voicemail via WhatsApp.

Through Nov. 21 at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St. Pay what you wish. For tickets and information, or 215-563-1100. Proof of vaccination and masks are required.

‘Soon’: Peanut butter and Wolf Blitzer

Peanut butter. Wolf Blitzer. Herschel, the Jewish fish. Yes, these are connected — somehow — in the musical Soon. These are a few of Charlie’s favorite things, which she takes to her couch as the climate-change-induced end of the world nears. It’s going to be funny (the play, not the end of the world).

Philadelphia’s 11th Hour Theatre Co., in partnership with Lancaster’s Prima Theatre, has joined forces to present Soon, a dark comedy written by Nick Blaemire and directed by Michael Philip O’Brien.

Through Nov. 7, Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St. Masks and vaccination proof are required. For tickets,, 267-987-9865.