The first time Detroit-born Carollette Phillips saw “Detroit ’67,” a play that tells the story of a family amid the uprising that reshaped the city more than 50 years ago, she felt a reaction so visceral that she had to leave the theater at some point. indicate.
“It could be right now,” said Phillips, an actress who now lives in Los Angeles.
This relevance is one reason the Detroit Public Theater decided to bring “Detroit ’67” back, staging its new production at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Beginning Wednesday and running through June 11 at the museum’s General Motors Theater, the play, written by Dominique Morisseau, another Detroit native and executive artistic producer of the Detroit Public Theater, explores this devastating period of 1967 and its impact on a family, their decisions and everyone. around them.
“I grew up hearing ‘race riot’ and now it’s in my bones that it was a rebellion,” said Edmund Alyn Jones, the actor who plays Langston “Lank” Hughes Poindexter, one of the characters principals, opposite Phillips, who plays Chelle, his sister. “It was people who were being treated badly and standing up.”
But even though the play, directed by Detroit Public Theater veteran Brian Marable, dives into such a devastating time, there’s also a lot of joy there, Jones said.
“We laugh a lot during the show and as a cast,” he said.
Still, the show is an “emotional rollercoaster,” said actor Henri Franklin, who plays Lank’s best friend Sly. He hopes it will spark conversations.
“I hope people go away and talk and say, ‘Hey, do these things always happen? Hey, am I doing something in my personal life that contributes to these things? do I have any friends who contribute to these things?” said Franklin, who has also performed in the Detroit Pubic Theater’s previous “Detroit ’67” productions. “If so, is it safe and can I object to it. It’s a really, really human story.”
“Detroit ’67” marks the Detroit Public Theater’s first theatrical production since kicking off COVID two years ago and the final play of its 2021-2022 season.
Courtney Burkett, one of DPT’s three co-founders and production art director, said that when considering which show should end their season, they decided to revisit “Detroit ’67” given that it is a play about history but that it is “a play about today, too.”
DPT first produced “Detroit ’67” in 2016 to end the theater’s inaugural season and again as a touring production in 2017, the 50th anniversary of what is now called an uprising. The tour even kicked off where the uprising started at 12th and Clairmont.
“It was really powerful. The first performance was outside Gordon Park on the day that marked the 50th anniversary,” Burkett said.
For the Detroit Public Theater, bringing “Detroit ’67” back “felt great,” Burkett said. “It’s a great way to introduce ourselves in so many ways. A lot of companies do ‘A Christmas Carol’ every year or ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. We’re the Detroit Public Theater and we think it’s about ‘a central element of the programming that we need to review.
The play takes place over a period of approximately five days in July 1967, where the uprising began at the north end of the city. It focuses on Lank and Chelle after they inherit their family home and run a speakeasy in the basement. And the two have different ideas about what should happen to the family home.
Lank “wants something more,” Jones said. “They get an inheritance. Instead of doing what’s safest with it – his sister wants to pay off the mortgage – he wants to invest it in a business so it can grow.”
Burkett said that ultimately it delves into “upward mobility, ownership in the community and the neighborhood. And around that, all the tensions in the city basically build and burst.”
Phillips, who plays Chelle, said her parents had just moved to Detroit from Tennessee right after the 1967 uprising. She said one thing she loved about Morisseau’s play was that she saw many his mother and father in the series. She also relates to it as a black woman amid the deaths of black men such as Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
She remembers her husband going after Arbery’s death and how she nearly had a panic attack when he wasn’t home in 30 minutes.
“These men look like my uncle, my father, my husband, my sons, my brothers. And that’s what you have in the room,” she said. “These people weren’t rioters and looters – these people were people, someone’s people.”
The play also explores families, roots, what connects people to their roots and the importance of telling your own story, she said.
“If you don’t tell your story, history can paint you in a different way,” Phillips said. “…That’s why it’s so important to remember your roots and understand how and why these things happen, and how we can improve them.”
produced by the Detroit Public Theater.
Wednesday through June 11 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s General Motors Theater, 315 E. Warren Avenue, Detroit.
For tickets, go to https://www.detroitpublictheatre.org/.