Recommended*** Once again, I am at a point where I wish I could do my rating based on several factors instead on one rating for the entire production. If that were the cae, my review for Northlight Theatre’s current production, “Detroit ’67” would be the above for the play, but for the actors ****, and another **** for director Ron OJ Parsons. The story that is told in “Detroit ’67” is one that we have seen many times about the riots of 1967 and the destruction that Detroit felt from these events. They were not alone, of course. All the major cities had problems that year and the African American communities in many cases were burned to the ground. Playwright Dominique Morisseau leads us down a slightly different road to the known conclusion. Her story is about a brother and sister Chelle ( the powerful as well as beautiful Tyla Abercrumbie) and younger brother Lank ( deftly handled by Kamal Angelo Bolden) . They have a small home in Detroit that was left to them by their recently departed father as well as a bit of cash. Lank and Chelle run an “after hours club” in the basement of this home where locals can hang out, have a drink and a dance and feel good about themselves and their live, in a time when Black people couldn’t.
Lanks best friend, from boyhood days, Sly ( a powerful performance and character developed by Kelvin Roston Jr, who you may recall from his Jeff nomination at Black ensemble for his “Jackie Wislon” performance, is in love with Chelle and seeking success in life, so he and Lank plan to purchase a bar in town to start building their dream and future. Along the way many changes befall these characters leading up to the riots that cause a total change in each of the characters along with the complexion of Detroit itself. There are two other characters in this story. bunny ( a glorious performance by Coco Elysses) a neighbor who enjoys spending her time dancing and drinking and a young white woman, Caroline ( adorably played by Cassandra Bissell) who has some true mystery in how they met her, why she moved in with them and is she a possible love interest for lank. Wit- this is the 1960’s- that could only mean trouble!
This is a story about one family and their associates during a time when change was taking place in the United States. The way they lived was the only way one could live during these times and yet they had dreams, hopes, aspirations and wanted to have a better future than those who pre-existed them. We see how love can develop, how important trust is and friendship. we see how what happens outside of the existence of these people has an effect on them and their dreams. we see how these dreams can be caught in the up-heavel of a world in turmoil over change that is evident and how real it all was.
These were real hard times , not only in detroit but all over the country. This is one story of hundreds and while it is close and possibly Morisseau’s own history, this story is very like many other we have seen. The acting and direction do make this worth the investment and the use of the music of the times, Motown’s greatest hits help bring all the segments together. The production is 2 hours and 20 minutes ( there is an intermission). The action takes place in the family basement that has been sort of fixed up to acommodate the “parties/club at night 9 another realistic set by Jack Magaw), lighting (JR Lederle) is solid as are the costumes (Nan Cibula-Jenkins) and Nick Keenan’s sound and Sarah Burnham’s props round out the technical portion of what makes a play complete. This troupe hit the nail on the head ( so to speak).
What took place back in 1967 was just the start of the downfall of Detroit’s economy and today, while the race issue is not one that is spoken of, the economy in Detroit is far below poverty levels of other major cities. This play is one of historical materials that many classrooms ignore- There is still a power struggle between the white population and the African American population and as one can read, Detroit will stay at its low level until the people open their eyes and learn from the past. Meanwhile, if you want to see this stunning play, it will continue at Northlight Theatre located at 9501 Skokie blvd. in Skokie through December 15th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays 7:30 p.m. ( except 11/19 and 12/3)
Thursdays 7:30 p.m. ( except Thanksgiving)
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.(Except 11/24 and 12/15)
Tickets range from $25-$75 ( students, who I urge see this story always $15) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 847-673-6300 o online at www.northlight.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Detroit ’67”