1967 was the year that changed everything for the City of Detroit and the fictional African-American family depicted in Detroit ’67, University of Michigan educated dramatist and actress Dominique Morisseau’s prize-winning play about a watershed year in her hometown, which is the inaugural mainstage production in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 2016-17 season. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s critically acclaimed professional-theater-in-residence will preview this incendiary drama, which Minneapolis Star Tribune theater critic Rohan Preston dubbed a “poetic play of fire-fueled dreams and frustrated love that is set against a backdrop of historic social unrest in Motown,” on Sept. 14th and 15th, officially open it on Sept. 16th, and then perform it on Sept. 18th, 20-23, and 25th and Sept. 27-Oct. 2 in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art.
Detroit ’67 made its Off-Broadway debut on March 12, 2013 at the Joseph Papp Public Theater/Susan Stein Shiva Theater, under the direction of Kwame Kwei-Armah. In awarding the play the 2014 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, Columbia University wrote, “The first in a 3-play cycle[, called The Detroit Projects,] about playwright Dominique Morisseau’s hometown Detroit, Detroit ’67 explores an explosive and decisive moment in a great American city. The play’s compelling characters struggle with racial tension and economic instability. Detroit ’67 is a work grounded in historical understanding that also comments meaningfully on the pressing issues of our day.”
“I first heard of Dominique Morriseau when I was on staff at the Lark Play Development Center in New York City,” says PRC guest director Lisa Rothe. “Dominique was the 2012 PoNY (Playwrights of New York) Fellow at the Lark, and I got to know her and her work there. I saw Detroit ’67 at the Public Theater in 2013, and was captivated by this story of a family during a time of social unrest….
“At the heart of this story is a family, and everyone can relate to that on some level,” says Rothe, who previously staged the world premiere of Penelope (2012), written and performed by Ellen McLaughlin, and Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths (2014) for PlayMakers Rep. Rothe adds, “We experience their love, anger, joy, loneliness, passion, and rage as if it were our own. I also love plays with music; and in this one, Motown is woven through the fabric of the play and of these characters’ lives.” (Click here for a playlist for Detroit’67.)
“I know that in writing this play, Dominique was looking for songs that had a particular point of view or message, that spoke to where the characters were or what they were going through at particular points in their lives,” says Rothe. “The music definitely adds to the spirit of this play and really gives us a sense of the world these characters inhabit.”
She notes, “Detroit ’67 is the first of a three-play cycle by playwright Dominique Morriseau, about her beloved hometown of Detroit. This story tracks the lives, dreams, and frustrations of a Black family in the hours leading up to the Detroit rebellion of 1967 and the explosive days following.
“Detroit ’67 limelights the fierce, loving, and sometimes turbulent relationship of sister and brother, Chelle (Rachel Christopher) and Lank (Myles Bullock) Poindexter and their struggles to make ends meet by running an illegal, after-hours party in their basement, while systemic governmental barriers in the city make it hard for blacks in the community to expand and flourish,” says Lisa Rothe. “Set against the climate of high racial tensions between the black community and police, Lank and his best buddy, the community ‘Numbers’ runner Sly (Charlie Hudson III) dream big, with hopes of soon owning their own legitimized bar.
“While Chelle laments Lank’s ambition, lightheartedness, and refusal to play by the rules, her idealistic best friend, Bunny (Tangela Large) offers up a different, but complementary perspective,” Rothe says. “As this family’s world is shaken up by the disturbance of the historic rebellion, we are also pulled in by the arrival of the mysterious Caroline (Katy Castaldi), a white woman, whose presence adds tension and momentarily shift dynamics in the Poindexter home. Accented by the music of Motown, Detroit ’67 reminds us of a very poignant piece of Black American history and how the love and loyalty of family held it all together.”
Detroit ’67 assistant director JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell adds, “One major challenge (and triumph) that you find working on a play like this is that the work of Dominique Morisseau finds itself smack dab in the middle of the same conversation and dialogue with the likes of August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry. And often times, there are the same types of expectations — the notion that these plays should be performed and directed a certain way.”
She adds, “The challenge is that as directors, it is our job to see and then compel the actors to look at these characters through a new lens, to approach these stories with the same in-depth analysis that you would with the work of O’Neill, Chekhov, Ibsen, or any other work with a narrative that differs from one that’s familiar to one’s trajectory.
“At first glance,” says Holloway-Burrell, “these characters could easily be mistaken for simply spritely 1970’s sitcom caricatures; but just like black people’s experience in America, these characters share a much more complex journey that can’t be summed up in the 130 pages of this play. Their stories begin long before this play takes place and will live on way past the last page. And although this story is rooted deeply in truth, history, and very publicized pain, these characters tend to seem already fully realized — as they are our aunts, uncles, cousins — and we’ve heard these stories at our family reunions and at Sunday dinners after church. We still owe it to these characters, to really do our homework, so that we are actively and intentionally creating something new, giving them increased meaning and fresh perspective, rather than being obligated to the ways we’ve experienced them before.”
In addition to director Lisa Rothe and assistant director JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Detroit ’67 includes producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Lee Savage, lighting designer Xavier Pierce, costume designer McKay Coble, assistant costume designer Jennifer Guadagno, sound designer Justin Ellington, sound engineer Anna Alex, media designer Dominic Abbenante, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Tracy Bersley, dramaturg Jacqueline E. Lawton, stage manager Hannah-Jean Farris, and assistant stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
Lisa Rothe notes, “The entire play takes place in a basement — a safe space for this family, that turns into a bit of a bunker during a time of great social unrest. [Set designer Lee Savage and I] both had a very visceral response to the explosive nature of these objects that had previously been whole and intact and are suddenly caught in the act of being blown apart. It was important for me to find a kinetic way to link the past and the present, as events of the present are strongly echoing the events of the past.”
Rothe adds, “Our costume designer (McKay Coble) has done a masterful job of giving each character their own 1960’s wardrobe. Most of the clothing are actual period pieces and work together beautifully to give us the flavor of the time without hitting us over the head with the stereotypical clothing that we might associate with the period. These are actual clothes from the period that people in the late 1960’s would typically wear on a day-to-day basis….
“The lighting designer (Xavier Pierce) and I talked about how these characters are constantly in fear of their lives being taken,” says Lisa Rothe. “As the danger gets closer and closer, the color palette will change from cool to warm lights.”
Rothe adds, “This play takes place in 1967, but speaks directly to what is happening in 2016. It is not difficult to conjure up images of Black men being harassed and shot, because we can watch them every day in some new scenario on the news or on YouTube. Dominique says this about her play: ‘It’s about this brother and sister and their differing world views. It’s about how they maintain that thread of family through their differences while the city is wrestling with its own discord…. The play asks where do we go next, especially when a new member is added to your community. Are there too many wounds to come together and heal?'”
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents DETROIT ’67 at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20-23, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27-30, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1, and p.m. Oct. 2 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up, except $10 students with ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
PRC’S AGE RECOMMENDATION: “This powerful, tuneful drama about a family caught in an explosive moment in American history contains adult language and themes that make it most appropriate for patrons 14 years and older.”
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20th, performance.
NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21st, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25th, performances.
NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1st (for more information, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitor-info/accessibility-and-special-needs/).
Detroit ’67 (2013 Off-Broadway play): http://dominiquemorisseau.com/?portfolio=detroit-67 (official web page), http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/12567/detroit-67 (Samuel French, Inc.), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5531 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://actorstheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Detroit-67-Play-Guide.pdf (Actors Theatre of Louisville).
Dominique Morisseau (playwright): http://dominiquemorisseau.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/42109 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm7822943/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/dominique.morisseau (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/domorisseau (Twitter page).
Lisa Rothe (PRC guest director based in New York, NY): http://www.lisarothe.com/ (official website), http://www.playmakersrep.org/artists/lisa-rothe/ (PRC bio), https://www.facebook.com/lisa.rothe (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/olivetodd31 and https://twitter.com/CreativeVoix (Twitter pages).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)