This past weekend, the Albion theatre department put on its first show of the year, “Detroit ’67,” which portrays Chelle, played by Jessica Neal, a senior from Grand Rapids, Mich., and Lank, played by Carlton Williams, a senior from Oak Park, Mich., two siblings, caught in the middle of the Detroit Riot of 1967.
Written by Dominique Morisseau, an American playwright from Detroit, Mich., and directed by K. Edmonds, a resident artist at The Purple Rose Theater Company in Chelsea, Mich., “Detroit ‘67” keeps the audience entertained with humor, unexpected turns and tragedy.
Due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the play was set outside on the Kresge Gymnasium steps. However, the change in scenery did not prevent the audience from enjoying the captivating portrayal of this play while following social distancing and mask-wearing protocols on the quad.
The play is set in the basement of Chelle’s and Lank’s childhood home. Chelle is seen getting ready for a party to raise money for her son, Julius, who is away at college.
From the beginning, “Detroit ‘67” shows a good amount of humor. Bunny, played by Alyssa Andrews, a sophomore from Detroit, Mich., and Chelle’s playful friendship adds lightness to help ease the impending serious turn of events. Sly, played by Sean Bonner, a senior from Chicago, Ill., and Lank’s banter also aid in this aspect.
Each event that occurs directly feeds into the next. As Chelle is preparing the basement for her party, Lank and Sly, who were supposed to be out getting new records for the party among other necessities, return with an 8-track tape player. Chelle, being a strong-willed woman who is used to the way things have always been, does not agree to this impulse buy. This is when the siblings, Chelle and Lank, begin to disagree over their personal views and the use of their inheritance left behind by their parents.
The two siblings build the plot by continuing to disagree when Lank and Sly mention buying a bar, which they believe will give them claim and status in their neighborhood, so the police can stop pushing them around. Even though Chelle remains adamant that the inheritance money should not be put into this idea, Lank and Sly still choose to pursue this dream. At this point, the audience is split between siding with reasonable Chelle or big dreamer Lank.
Later, Lank and Sly bring home an unconscious, injured white woman, Caroline, played by Elena Mourad, a sophomore from Woodbridge, Va., that they found around Chicago Boulevard. In order to avoid drawing suspicion at a hospital, they thought bringing her home was the best option they had. Chelle, however, does not seem to agree, which she can not be blamed for due to the way that African Americans are discriminated against. Regardless of her beliefs, Chelle reluctantly agrees to give Caroline work for a week. She uses her new job to collect money to buy a train ticket out of Detroit.
With Bunny’s occasional drop-ins, everything seems to be going fine. There are small romance plots that manage to add a lightheartedness to the tone of the play. Lank and Caroline grow closer and begin to develop feelings for each other the more time they spend together. Chelle and Sly have an obvious connection as well, although Chelle denies it.
Once the riots begin, Lank gets involved for the sake of protecting his new business from being burned down. During the days of the riots, Lank gets arrested, and it is discovered that Caroline has a possible connection to the abusive policemen that detained Lank. This is when the plot begins to unfold, and the audience is pulled into a trance of the events. When one of the attacks targets their new bar, Lank and Sly get directly involved, which is when things go completely wrong for the characters. The reality of police violence, although not shown, could be felt.
The show wraps up with emotion derived from all five of the characters. The ending offers a good enough conclusion for the audience, with just enough left for the imagination.
Overall, the characters managed to pull off a great show and portray each movement and act with the necessary devotion, all while social distancing.
This specific play comes at a good time, after the events of this past summer. It emphasizes the need for acknowledgment of the racial issues that are still in effect today. Because “Detroit ‘67” specifically relates to police brutality, it is even more relevant to the events that have been receiving a lot of attention across the media.
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