I originally attended the August, 25 performance of “Detroit ’67,” presented by the newly formed Naptown Actors Theatre Company (NAATC), making its auspicious debut at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre. Nearly an hour into the first act, the performance was stopped and later cancelled due to a medical emergency involving an actor. It was the very first time I had experienced such a crisis during my 45 years of reviewing theatre. Like the rest of the audience, I felt deep concern for the performer in question but was also disappointed because I was deeply engaged with the play only to have it interrupted, then cancelled.
Of course, I could not in good conscious write a review of a performance that I only saw a portion of, so I returned last evening to see the play in its entirety. The only important difference I noticed was the fact that the actor who collapsed last week was replaced by another. I am pleased to report, however, that my original positive reaction to the play is still intact.
Impressively directed by D’yesha Mansfield the production’s talented ensemble consisted of Indy-based actors Lakesha Lorene (Chelle), Enis Adams, Jr. (Lank), Kelli Kel (Bunny), Sara Castillo Dandurand (Caroline) and Daniel A. Martin (Sly), all of whom turned in convincing and honest portrayals of their characters.
Written by Detroit native Dominque Morisseau, “Detroit ‘67” is set in the Motor City during the a volatile period of the so-called “race riots,” in the summer of 1967 during which President Lyndon B. Johnson called in the National Guard to restore peace in the decimated city. The play takes place right over a five-day period where the uprising started on the city’s north end. It centers on Lank and Chelle after they’ve inherited their family home and they’re running a afterhours “joint” out of the basement. And the two have different ideas of what should happen to the family home. The siblings receive an inheritance. His sister wants to pay off the mortgage and Lank wants to invest it in a business so it can grow. Ultimately, the dramedy addresses upward mobility, ownership in the community and neighborhood. And in the backdrop are the tensions in the city that are building, all fueled by poverty, racism, inequality, and police brutality. Finally, the play also explores families, roots, people’s connection to their roots and the importance of relating one’s own story.
An added treat were the Motown hits that were frequently referenced and played throughout the play, fondly recalling for me the summer between my sophomore and junior college years.
Other than some minor flaws such as line flubs, missed cues and a slow pace that drug out the production’s two hour and thirty-minute length, along with costume inconsistencies, the results were generally commendable.
On the plus side, it was the acting that took front seat. Lorene shined as the rigid, and protective sister to her loving older brother Lank, played effectively by Enis, who dreams of success as an entrepreneur. Kel excelled as vibrant and sassy family friend Bunny and Martin who played Sly, kind-heart visionary best friend to Lank. Turning in a striking performance was Dandurand as Caroline, a mysterious stranger Lank rescues from the mean streets,
It’s unfortunate that Morisseau’s potent, touching play is still so relevant at a time when racial profiling, inequity, and police misconduct against Black people and other ethnic groups still exists. However, it is encouraging that voices such as hers will be heard thanks to groups such as NAATC which provide hope that more stories of the marginalized will he told.
For more information about Naptown African American Theatre Company (NAATC) whose mission states: “We are passionate about creating an Equity house for Black theatre professionals in the city of Indianapolis and beyond while creating art that speaks to the humanity, beauty, and power of Black stories.” visit naatcinc.org