“Detroit ’67” will guide audiences through the riots and subsequent rebirth of the Motor City during its performances through Sunday, March 17, at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
“It’s going to help people see the transformation that Detroit is going through and how far they’ve come,” says David Hemphill, executive director of the Black Theatre Troupe.
“The riots were devastating, and Detroit is coming back great.” The winner of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, “Detroit ’67” unfolds during the summer of 1967 when black residents clashed with the Detroit Police Department after a police raid of a blind pig. The riot lasted five days.
In “Detroit ’67,” siblings Chelle and her brother, Lank, are making ends by turning their basement into an after-hours joint. When a mysterious woman finds her way into their lives, tensions escalate in their home and in their community.
“At the same time, the cops are beating people up and arresting them,” says Ralph Remington, TCA’s producing artistic director.
“It heated up over a period of a couple days before the riots kicked in full bore. We see what happens, the aftermath, through the lives of these characters.”
Hemphill calls the play “very well written,” as playwright Dominique Morisseau, 2018 MacArthur Foundation fellow, won awards for it.
“It takes interesting turns. We’re glad to be able to partner with the Tempe Center for the Arts,” Hemphill says. Remington says he and Hemphill chose the play because it’s still relevant today.
“Because of the times we live in, this play resonated. Unfortunately, many of the things people were dealing with in 1967 in Detroit we’re still dealing with today,” Remington says.
“The times, while they have changed, they haven’t changed that much. Why are we still living with the same conditions plaguing the communities back in the ’60s? Why do the same things exist? Particularly the relationship between the community and the police force.”
He says the contentious relationship can be traced to slavery. “The purpose of the police, back in the day, was to keep the slave population controlled,” Remington says. “Now in modern times, looking at the ’60s particularly, it’s how police used to control the community. They called them The Big Four because they rolled four in a car.”
Many communities can relate to this, Remington says. Besides Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and themWatts area of Los Angeles can relate.
“You had the Minneapolis riots. Now today we have Baltimore and Ferguson. They can resonate with what’s happening.”
The “Detroit ’67” actors are local, featuring Lillie Richardson as Chelle, Calvin Worthen as Chelle’s brother, Lank, and Alison Campbell as Caroline. Ashley Jackson appears as Bunny, and Cornelius Williams in the role of Sly.
“I’m really excited,” Remington says. “I’m very excited about this cast and the subject matter. We’re going to delve into this topic.”
“Detroit ’67,” Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 480.350.2822, tempecenterforthearts.com, various times, to Sunday, March 17 $35-$45.