Like a square photograph from a Kodak camera, deckle-edged with once-brilliant colors faded to a sepia-overlaid shadow of themselves, “Detroit 67” is a reminder of who we were and who we are as a culture, a people, a nation. And while we like to think the seeds of rebellion sown in the turbulent 1960s have led to a better world, when we look around is that really so?
Playwright Dominique Morisseau is a storyteller. She gives us permission to give voice to what she knows we will feel, as she knows how important it is to have a voice–it’s actually in the program! “Detroit 67” is a tale that many of our friends and family could tell–and not just from 50 years ago, as the story goes on today. The more things change, however, the more they remain the same.
We meet Chelle (Myxolidia Tyler) as she is preparing for a party. Her parents had hosted an after-hours club in their basement and in their memory, as well as for economic reasons, she decides to revive the tradition. Her bestie and girl-about-town Bunny (Nyahale Allie) is the one to spread the buzz that they’re back in business. As Chelle gets ready, she’s jamming on her classic record player, but as most do after a while, the record starts to skip, a harbinger of what is to come.
Chelle’s brother Lank (Johnny Ramey) has been given some cash to get some party needs and, with his buddy Sly (Will Cobbs), who’s been sweet on Chelle for-EVER, they have gone way off plan and acquired the latest and greatest to make their club a success–an eight-track-tape player. However, later that evening, Lank’s humanity puts him on a path that changes all of their lives together, when he rescues Caroline (Ginna Le Vine) from actual disaster, as well as potentially greater mayhem.
Worlds collide, in life and in love, bringing joy and pain, and triumph and defeat. There are some times and situations in which we feel borne along by Destiny, and Morisseau’s play is a great Greek tragedy set in a turbulent time, right on the eve of breaking rebellion in Detroit. Whether you remember or you’ve read about it, the 1960s in America were times of violent change. Police corruption lead to uprisings starting with Watts in Los Angeles in 1965 and later in Detroit, Trenton, Newark, and many other cities where people felt disenfranchised and unfairly targeted. Sound familiar? Lank and Sly have a plan to work hard and make some personal changes, and when Chelle’s dream collides with Lank and Sly’s, and Detroit steps in, you’ve got a mélange that will remain with you long after you’re on your way home.
Director Jade King Carroll has been part of the development of the play since sitting in her friend Morisseau’s living room to hear the first reading of the first draft and her deft guidance and vision are brilliant. Morisseau calls “Detroit 67” a love song to her family, and it is a reminder that the family we love is the family we make. Riccardo Hernandez’ set design is full-flavored 1960s, as are Dede M. Ayite’s costumes, most of which are period. Nicole Pearce’s lighting gives us the mood and moodiness, as well as the sense of danger outside and sanctuary within, that are so critical to the work. Sound design by Karen Graybash, with so much Motown gold sprinkled in, gives us the soundtrack of an era and the feeling of joy in the moment as well as ultimately the strength for what is to come.
The ensemble is so strong that it’s like peering through a window at a family, drawn to the warmth and light of a window, after the cold outside. But this play is set in a sultry July Summer, with the rich virtual fumes of gasoline all around, just waiting for a match to ignite. Give yourself an evening you will remember, and take a friend who loves music and life as much as you. Morisseau invites us to react, worship, dream and love–it is time to accept that invitation.
“Detroit 67” runs through October 28 and you don’t want to miss it! Try to catch the pre- and post-show events, as they add so much to the experience! Contact the box office today at www.McCarter.org
or via telephone at 609/258-ARTS (2787).