There are only a few more weeks left to see Aurora Theatre Company’s intense and moving production of Detroit ’67, by the award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau (book writer of Ain’t Too Proud). It’s a creative and personalized exploration of the causes and effects of the 1967 Detroit riots from the viewpoint of members of a black family living in segregated Detroit at the time.
The Detroit unrest began early on a Sunday morning in July 1967, when an undercover Detroit police officer initiated the arrests of all the partygoers in an unlicensed after-hours club. The conduct of the police led to an explosion of anger and destruction that lasted for days, with the National Guard and U.S. Army being called in to quell the disturbances. Ultimately, 43 people died, and more than 2,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
In Dominique Morisseau’s drama, siblings Chelle (perfect Halili Knox) and Lank (first-rate Rafael Jordan) live in the Detroit house they inherited from their parents. To make some extra spending money, they run an informal (and illegal) dance club in their basement. They love to listen to Motown tunes on their brand new 8-track tape deck and to enjoy good times dancing and drinking with their friends.
Chelle, a widow, is risk-averse and fears taking any action that will raise the attention of the police or jeopardize the family home and small inheritance. So, when Lank and his buddy Sly (impressive Myers Clark) come across an unconscious young white woman, Caroline (fine Emily Radosevich), and bring her home to recuperate, Chelle objects, dreading that Caroline will bring trouble with her. Chelle’s fright also causes her to oppose Lank’s and Sly’s dream of buying a neighborhood bar, which is priced right because its white owner is fleeing to the suburbs.
Aided by a cast of admirable actors, including Akilah A. Walker as the irrepressible friend Bunny, and incisively directed by Darryl V. Jones (The Royale), playwright Dominique Morisseau keeps Detroit ’67 front and center on the personal story of the characters and avoids the didacticism that others might have easily employed. The projection of period films of the neighborhood and the Motown hits helps to capture the essential social and political mores, speech and dress of the period. And in spite of all the upheaval, Detroit ’67 ends on a hopeful note; although sadly, race relations have not improved adequately in the ensuing 49 years.
As I was on vacation when this exceptional drama opened, I didn’t have the pleasure of reviewing Detroit ’67 until now. Please try to see Detroit ’67 before it closes on Oct. 7. For information and tickets, visit Aurora Theatre online.