Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It's All About Family And Dreams In 'Detroit '67'

Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha and Cherise Boothe

By Darlene Donloe

Picture it – Detroit, 1967. The Motown sound was wafting over the city and literally positioning itself as the sound that changed America.

But 1967 would not only become a pivotal year in Detroit’s history, it would also prove to be a critical year for Chelle and her brother Lank, two siblings who make ends meet by running an after-hours joint in the basement of the home they inherited from their parents.

Chelle (Cherise Boothe) is a practical woman who is focused on the future and has a plan for her life and that of her son.  She uses the money from the parties to raise money for her son’s education. Her brother Langston, who is called Lank, is ambitious, impractical and wide-eyed about the future. He would rather use the money they make to open a bar with his lifelong friend, Sly.

Chelle has a party hearty friend named Bunny (Kellee Stewart) who is quick-witted, street-wise and hilarious.  Lank’s ride or die best friend Sly (Damu Malik) is just as impatient as he is about gaining financial freedom.

Damu Malik and Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha

The world of all four friends changes drastically when Lank and Sly, in an effort to help out a mysterious, bruised and battered white woman named Caroline (Trisha LaFache) decide to bring her to Chelle and Lank’s home to recuperate – even though they have no idea who she is.  One thing leads to another and Lank finds himself getting a little too close to Caroline, much to the chagrin of Chelle.

As luck would have it, this event happens just before those five pivotal days surrounding the Detroit uprising.

Those days would see black neighborhoods in Detroit reduced to rubble. Many homes were lost and even more businesses were burned to the ground. The uprising began after police raided an unlicensed after-hours bar in a black Detroit neighborhood. The devastation would leave 43 people dead.

This is Detroit '67, which is currently enjoying its west coast premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.   The play is written by Dominique Morriseau, an alumna of Public Theater Emerging Writers Group, Women's Project Lab and Lark Playwrights Workshop.  Her plays include a three-play cycle, The Detroit Projects (Detroit '67, Paradise Blue, Skelton Crew); Sunset Baby and Follow Me to Nellie's.

Kellee Stewart and Cherise Boothe

Morriseau has written a poignant, dramatic play using bits of humor as she weaves her story about the human experience in the midst of chaos and how everyone approaches it differently. There are several stories, plots and subplots intertwined in this social drama – all coming together to paint a human picture.

The show’s first act sets up a riveting story as it shapes characters and slowly peels back each element layer by layer.  

While the show, which takes place solely in the family basement, acknowledges a cast of five, it’s actually a cast of six – as the Motown sound, played throughout the show, is integral to the story and is very much an equal character – adding depth, emotion and ultimately freedom and understanding.  

To Director Joy Hooper's credit, the first act of this production is energetic and awash with possibilities. However, unfortunately, the second act doesn’t really push the story forward.  While the second act is interesting, it drags - disposing of the show’s energy and nearly bringing the story to a halt. 

The first act was so long, it really could have been extended another 20-30 minutes and been presented as a one-act.

Trisha LaFache and Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha

That being said, all of the actors in the show complement each other and the material. Each is vibrant and well developed  - making for a well-rounded and satisfying production – even when the pace wanes. With lesser actors this show could have stalled.

The set, a bit constricting – works well for a Detroit basement.  The dialogue is reminiscent of the time and feel of ’67. However, in 1967 Detroiters called a ‘slow dance,’ a ‘social’. The reference would only be known by someone from Detroit.

Ultimately Detroit ’67 is a celebration of relationships. 

Cherish Boothe and Damu Malik

Detroit ’67 is written by Dominique Morisseau, directed by Hooper and produced by the standard: an artist collective in association with The Latino Theatre Company.

The show stars Cherise Boothe, Trisha LaFache, Damu Malik, Kellee Stewart and Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha.

Detroit ’67, Los Angeles Theatre Center, in The Gallery, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA  90013; 8 p.m., Thurs.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sunday.  Also 7:30, Monday, Oct. 12, through Oct. 18; $22-$37; For information: 866 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no!), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Detroit ‘67 gets an O (OK).

Photo Credit: Chaz Photographics.

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