Detroit ’67 mixes Motown music with drama at Aurora Theatre.

Halili Knox, Myers Clark,  Emily Radosevich, Rafael Jordan and Akilah A. Walker  in Detroit ’67 at Aurora Theatre. ()L_R)

DETROIT ’67: Drama by Dominique Morisseau. Directed by Darryl V. Jones. Aurora Theatre, Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.  August 31 – September 30, 2018

Detroit ’67 mixes Motown music with drama at Aurora Theatre. Rating: ★★★★☆

In July of 1967 Detroit erupted with riotous rebellion that saw people (mostly black) killed and entire city blocks torched and destroyed. This is the background for Dominique Morisseau’s play Detroit ‘67 that is part one of her trilogy “The Detroit Cycle.” The third play, Skelton Crew received an award winning production 6 months ago by the Marin Theatre Company in conjunction with TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley. The writing and play construction of Detroit ’67 is not quite up to par with that production but the fine cast and direction at Aurora earns a strong should see rating. .

Detroit ’67 is a family drama that plays out during those infamous nights when Detroit’s black neighborhood burned. The family consists of widowed Chelle (Halili Knox) who has a son studying at the Tuskegee Institute and younger brother Lank (Rafael Jordan) who has desires to be more than the white world allows for blacks. Their parents have died and they have moved into the family home near the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount that became the epicenter of the riots. What to do with an inheritance is a major plot line with Chelle’s conservative views in contrast  to Lank’s dreams of owning a bar business with his best friend Sly (Meyers Clark).

The play takes place in the basement of the house where they are preparing for an illegal neighborhood party that will provide extra income. Good friend Bunny (Akilah A.Walker) a sexy spark plug arrives to help with the decorations. Her presence adds the much needed humor to balance the dire actions that you know will come.

Before that happens, Lank and Sly as good Samaritans bring home an unconscious white woman, Caroline (Emily Radosevich) whom they have rescued from the streets. Her background remains mysterious yet she is allowed to stay in the basement and help with the party that becomes financially successful. It is semi-apparent that Lank has developed a dangerous romantic interest in her.

Days later when all hell breaks loose in the streets and buildings are being robbed and burned down while the mostly white police are indiscriminately using severe force. Sly and Lank go out with a deed of ownership to the bar they have purchased only to be attacked by the police who refuse to believe “blacks owned property.”  Both are severely beaten. Ironically, Lank foolishly thinks that when the National Guard and National troops arrive order will be restored when in fact they aided in attacks on the blacks.

All the bleakness of the play is only partially balanced by Lank’s misplaced faith that tries to shine through, “ain’t about keepin’ what you got—it’s about buildin’ something new.” Morisseau bookends her play with Motown music first with Chelle using her scratchy 45 record player and ending with an 8 track tape recorder suggesting better times will come. It is all too pat but the build up to the anticlimactic ending keeps the audience riveted.

It would be unfair to praise one actor above the other since they all invest their roles with truth. However, Akilah A. Walker as Bunny takes center stage without detracting from the acting of the others.  

The creative team beginning with Richard Olmstead’s depiction of the basement, Cliff Caruther’s sound design buttressed by Jeff Rowlings lightening evokes claustrophobia while the cacophony of the battle outside the half windows and projected above the set emphasize the danger without.

Running time is two hours and 20 minutes including the intermission.

CAST: Myers Clark as Sly ​, Rafael Jordan​ as Lank, Halili Knox​ as Chelle, Emily Radosevich as Caroline, and Akilah A. Walke as Bunny​.

CREATIVE CREW: Cliff Caruthers–sound design, Kitty Muntzel–costume design; Richard Olmsted–set design; and Jeff Rowlings–lighting design

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

Halili Knox (L), Myers Clark (C) and Akilah A. Walker (R) in Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau, directed by Darryl V. Jones.