BWW Review: Center Stage's DETROIT '67 at Towson University Proves Worth The Geographic Challenge
Hey, everybody! Center Stage is undergoing renovations! But that's not stopping them from putting on a Center Stage production, with Center Stage production values and attention to detail, it's just a little less accessible than "downtown, in Mount Vernon." To compensate for that, though, there's a multi-level garage across the street, and it's free.
DETROIT '67, first produced in 2013, is written by Detroit native Dominique Morriseau who has a BFA in acting from University of Michigan. The script has a self-explanatory title, a strong storyline, dialogue that is often witty though frequently redundant or cliche, flat but familiar archetypical characters and themes of loyalty, shifting value systems, power structure and happiness. This full-scale Center Stage production includes excellent technical effects, a clever, accurately detailed set and snappy pacing. The Mainstage Theatre at Towson University has beautifully raked stadium seating in a 2/3 curve around the theatre. There are no cupholders, however, Towson being among theatres which still hold to a 'no eating or drinking inside' precept which is being tossed aside by many venues.
The setting for the show is striking: scenic designer Michael Carnahan makes excellent use of the Mainstage's ample vertical space- the theater's entrance and box office are located on the 3rd floor of the Towson Center for Fine Arts. Carnahan creates a split-level two story home with details I recognize from my grandmother's home in a suburb of Detroit. Other productions of DETROIT '67 have included only the basement level, as it is a one-set show, but Carnahan's addition of an upper level provides a canvas for really spectacular projections, courtesy of Alex Basco Koch and Jen Schriever's lighting effects which create mood, outside environment, the passage of time, a party scene and social commentary. Though the acoustics of the theater make it difficult for me to hear some of the dialogue, the sound effects by Justin Ellington are well cued and seamlessly integrated with the lighting, and I particularly note impressively realistic passage of police vehicles.
While I go out of my way to notice and appreciate the effects OF lighting onstage, I just as often find myself looking AT the lighting fixtures and the structures to which they are attached. Tonight at Towson's Mainstage, this is not the case. It's a nice treat to have the physicality of the lights be unobtrusive.
The compact 5-person cast is capable, charming and committed. Jessica Frances Duke as vivacious, bootylicious Bunny even manages to bring a bit of depth to an otherwise undimensioned comic foil role.
The costumes are in some instances spot-on, and in others, not quite. The same can be said of the dialogue and the diction of the actors performing it. I suspect this is a natural result when many of the involved parties have no personal memory of 1967. There are, however, a great many goodies for those who do remember, including the featuring role of a short-lived musical media format.
Center Stage has done an excellent job of producing a show worth seeing. DETROIT '67 has won awards, garnered critical acclaim and earned a spot in contemporary theatre. It also, being by and about frequently marginalized people of color, provides some diversity to the very often white bread theatre scene. My issues with dialogue and undeveloped characters may not bother all theatre-goers, and my Beloved Readers must remember that I'm rather a snob about writing. Could the script be better? Absolutely. Will audiences enjoy the show anyhow? I expect so. There's a lot that's likeable about this production, and if you're interested, I think you'll enjoy the excursion..
The show is about 2 ½ hours including a 15-minute intermission. DETROIT '67 runs Tuesdays through Sundays until May 8, 2016. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 8pm. Curtain for Thursday shows is 7pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees 2pm, and Sunday evening shows begin at 7:30. Tickets have been selling rapidly, and many of the shows are listed as 'limited.'
For tickets, visit Center Stage's website, www.centerstage.org/ShowsandEvents/Detroit67.aspx
Photo Credit: Richard Anderson