The two week-long theatrical run of "Detroit ’67" is coming to an end as the PlayMakers Repertory Company presented their final performance at Paul Green Theatre Sunday afternoon.
Since the play’s opening at UNC on Sept. 14, the play has continued to gain popularity and acclaim after every showing. Written by playwright Dominique Morisseau, this historical drama tells a story surrounding the themes of love, family, friendships, civil rights and racial unrest during a time of extreme hateful violence. Dramatizing the events of the 1967 Detroit riots, the narrative follows Lank (Myles Bullock) and Chelle (Rachel Christopher), two siblings who are simply trying to create a better life for themselves and their loved ones during such a convoluted juncture in US history.
Overall, the audience reception for the performance has been overwhelmingly positive, noting the play’s relevance to current events as a major component for its success.
“I was really enthralled by it,” Ariana Rivens, a junior psychology major, said. “I thought it was great performatively, but also the topic was very relevant.”
This reference to current events alludes to the violent protests that are currently occurring in Charlotte, which were a response to a police officer fatally shooting a man in the parking lot of a Charlotte apartment complex. Police brutality is a major story element within the play.
“Being kind of confronted with Charlotte was definitely emotionally jarring in a way,” Rivens said. “But I enjoyed it.”
Another forceful impact the play had was the connection of the past to the present and the future, especially the comparison of Detroit in 1967 to Charlotte in 2016.
“It is always good to be informed by your history,” said Brandon Yelverton, a junior political science and sociology double major. “Your past definitely affects your present and the future. I thought the themes that were expressed were done very well.”
The drama is driven by its diverse, yet powerful stage performances, headlined by the characters of Lank and Chelle. They both exhibited a form of likeability that benefits the qualities of a character. However, the supporting characters also demanded a strong presence on stage, even at times stealing the audience members’ attention for the short duration of time while they are on stage.
This is definitely the case with the characterizations of Sly (Charlie Hudson, III) and Bunny (Tangela Large). These two portrayals were charismatic and personified, leaving a lasting impact upon the minds of the viewer.
Additionally, the scenic design, lighting design and musical soundtrack helped complement the overall atmosphere of the play by adding a sense of realism and authenticity for the setting of the 1960s. The viewer truly felt like they were observing the sequenced events of the play in a distinguished chronological order.
While the positives of the performance are quite profound, the negatives are as well evidently present. While the character development was solid, specific moments in the drama felt slow and unnatural. Furthermore, the script consisted of multiple lines of comedic dialogue within several intense situations, which was jarring, to say the least.
The play demonstrated various adult-oriented themes surrounding racism, discrimination and police brutality in thought-provoking ways. The actors, the sets, the lighting and the musical score incorporated an ideal grasp of realism that was crucial for the setting of the production. However, the script lacked the pacing and the natural dialogue that was needed to establish a character-driven masterpiece.
Overall, "Detroit ’67" incorporates a set of dramatic strengths — the acting, the sets, and the soundtrack — as well as dramatic weaknesses, such as certain moments of uncomfortable dialogue and tonal issues.
However, the play’s overarching thematic message is absolutely clear: racial equality has taken many steps into the right direction over the last several decades, but many more steps still need to be taken for true racial equality to transform from a conceptive dream into an established reality.
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