BWW Review: DETROIT '67 at Tempe Center For The Arts
There are many different types of shows out in the universe of theatre. So many in fact, that it is impossible not to find something that will tug at the strings of your emotions to make you truly feel something. Although most people look at these as modes to escape reality, there are a large number of shows on the spectrum that are here to serve you a fist full of reality, allowing you to wear it, and acknowledge it properly. Tempe Center for the Arts and Black Theatre Troupe's co-production of Dominique Morisseau's play, Detroit '67 is on that section of the spectrum, raising that fist of reality strong and proud, with an amazing cast of enthralling performers.
Detroit '67 dives into an era of racial divide, that still echoes today. We the audience are invited into the basement of the Poindexter's home, where brother and sister, Lank and Chelle have after-hours party's and enjoy music and a drink or two with their friends, Bunny and Sly. As the play progresses and we are introduced to Caroline, a white woman Lank and Sly saved and the family helps, we see how relationships can be strained and how unexpected bonds can be created, especially when rioting erupts on the streets of 1967 Detroit.
The shows first impression is its set. Its feel was natural and homey. The first inviting glance makes you want to walk right up and sit on the couch or grab a drink from the bar. The set design is marvelous with my eye drawing to the flight of stairs clad with pictures of black excellence mounted above. Your attention is lured throughout, with levels, depth, artistic detail and multiple entrances. Every piece had meaning, not just because it was written as such, but also because of flawless direction and action.
Each actor did a tremendous job gracing the stage under the direction of Ralph Remington, the Producing Artistic Director of Tempe Center for the Arts. Calvin Worthen and Lillie Richardson as the shows leading duo, Lank and Chelle, portrayed a great brother and sister bond. Lillie as older sister Chelle leaned more toward a mother to her son vibe, which proved to be spot on as the show continued. As well, the steadfast, level-headedness of Chelle seemed to come honestly to Lillie as she naturally filled the shoes of the matriarch. However, it was no match to headstrong Lank. Calvin brought out the realness and relatability to the dreamer brother. His chemistry with Sly, played by Cornelius Williams, was dynamic, conveying exactly what you expect of two scheming best buddies. Cornelius was a lovable Sly whom, along with Ashley Jackson as Bunny, provided effortless execution of comic relief to some of the tenser scenes. Cornelius and Ashley paint the picture of those friends in your circle that are the closest to your heart. The former, a brother that can easily convince you his ideas are yours, and the later comedically caring, with the ability to drop jewels of wisdom paired with an eye roll, a hip swing, or her Lightning-like personality.
Some of the most entrancing moments, however, came while watching the chemistry build between Calvin's Lank, and Caroline, played by Alison Campbell. Although Lank and Bunny's relationship began the show with this smooth and sexual bond that was playful, there was a deeper connection between Lank and Caroline. Alison brought out Caroline's sensualness while holding on to the mystery of her character. As well, the comedic attraction between Sly and Chelle is another place where you find yourself anticipating the potential outcome. However, Cornelius' Sly and Lillie's Chelle didn't build at the same rate in chemistry as the others. With Chelle being more annoyed and standoffish toward Sly, which because of it remaining somewhat constant in comparison to Sly's progressively stronger advances, their later attraction and bond to each other felt a bit forced.
With all the greatness exuding from the stage, there were some spots where pacing and transitions were not as smooth as hoped. I looked past most of the transitional setbacks between scenes, however pacing wise, I felt as if the show was constantly trying to ramp up. A place would pick up and steam would build tremendously, but then the steam would die down with a long blackout and space would expand between lines, restarting the cycle. This, of course, is something that can easily heal itself with the completion of shows. I was however taken aback by one dramatic scene later in the show where the lighting effects on stage paired with the visual Lank was trying to convey did not hit its mark. I felt this part didn't propel the pain and loss and needed more refinement to execute.
What Detroit '67 does best is show its relevance. Topics like Privilege, Police brutality against Blacks, interatrial relationships, the worth of Women of Color, and wanting more for you and your family's future are beautifully strewn throughout the play. Director Ralph Remington uses his finesse to fine-tune the execution of each point, leading the actors to drive them home in a way that keeps your eyes, mind, and heart open. The points made during the preview interview I had with Director Remington and the Executive Director of Black Theatre Troupe, David Hemphill speak even louder post-viewing. It is saddening to say that our current climate of systematic oppression people of color experience now seems to mirror the struggles of before in some places and merely evolve into something of equal magnitude elsewhere. Detroit '67 transcends the concept of being a piece of the times, as it shouts proudly for the voices of here and now. Detroit '67 runs until March 17th at Tempe Center for the Arts. Do not miss this magnificent show. Tickets can be found at http://www.blacktheatretroupe.org/detroit-67
Photo Credit: Laura Durant