The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

REVIEW: VIP Theatre’s production of Detroit ’67

Photo by Charlie Waitkus
Detroit ’67 wrapped up it’s run at Helfaer Theatre this past Sunday.

From the moment you lay your eyes on the open stage at the Helfaer Theater, the atmosphere instantly transports you to Detroit in the summer of 1967. Graffiti art pieces with words like “soul” and “power to the people” frame a basement set that has been built and assembled with incredible detail to the time period, accented by mid-century furniture and Motown music.

Detroit ‘67 is the second installment of the Voices Included for People of Color (VIP) Theatre at Marquette and caps off the Marquette Theatre season. I had the opportunity to watch and usher this performance thanks to THAR 2020: Theatre Appreciation, a course I’m taking taught by Professor John Schneider. 

The play takes place in the basement of Chelle (Martilia Marechal) and Lank (Deshawn A. Thomas), two siblings who have recently moved into their childhood home with a small inheritance after the passing of their parents. Lank balances the sharpness and sensibility of his older sister Chelle with his big ambitions to own a business. Bunny (Lauryn Middleton) and Sly (Joseph Brown, Jr.) bring a constant friendship to their lives, serving both as comedic relief and a stalwart source of support to both characters when things turn for the worse.

The siblings run an after-hours joint out of their basement with dancing and alcohol, a setting that never moves as the audience watches the play unfold. Once the story begins to take shape, the audience is hit with the vision of Lank and Sly carrying in the body of a battered white woman named Caroline (Naomi Kriege) onto the basement couch, having saved her from collapsing on the streets. Caroline stays with the siblings to get on her feet, offering no details of her life and past, only a mystery to be unraveled later. Meanwhile, Lank and Sly buy a real bar and come face-to-face with the race riots of 1967 Detroit and police brutality. 

Motown music runs like a river through the performance, weaving between the dueling personalities of carefree Lank and sensible Chelle, and in crucial moments such as when Lank offers his feelings to Caroline through a song he chooses to play on the 8-track player.  

In my opinion, the stand out performances of the evening had to be Bunny and Lank. I thoroughly enjoy it when an actor utilizes movement in their acting to further their character’s presence. From the way she sat in her chairs, flicked her hands to make a point, and danced with Lank, Bunny took the stage and made it hers. It made for a captivating performance that accentuated the character’s presence in Lank and Chelle’s lives and helped to serve as a juxtaposition alongside Lank to the no-nonsense attitude of Chelle.

The comfortability of the relatively small cast in covering varying interpersonal relationships was organic in every pause and every glance. Notably, the scene between Chelle and Sly pushing and pulling away as Sly lays out his feelings had the audience on the edge of their seat. We watched the careful dance of romance and emotional walls Chelle protects herself with for the better of a reality that only exists to her. There was no formula or pattern to be found in the acting, the choices in movement, or the presence of the characters. All of the actors clearly spent time developing their craft in both individual performances and the differing interpersonal relationships we watched unfold on stage.

But the performances weren’t the only aspect worthy of praise, with the costuming and lighting design shining through the production. I had previously watched Marquette Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest and was impressed by the tailoring and costume design to fit the time period, and Detroit ‘67 was no exception. The colors and cuts of the outfits between Bunny and Chelle were as different as their personalities, succeeding in establishing their varying presences on stage. While Bunny sported bright reds, bold prints and glitter accents in fit and flare jumpsuits and jean skirts, Chelle kept to conservative puff sleeve tops, ankle jeans and canvas sneakers, only breaking the mold at one of the basement gatherings in a red velvet dress.

The lighting design made the audience feel they were in the basement with the characters. From the red and blue lights somehow driving by the basement windows to imitate a police car to the panels of light illuminating Caroline’s face the moment the coat falls away to reveal she’s a white woman, the lighting pushes the boundaries of reality to the audience.

Unfortunately, Detroit ’67 ended its run last Sunday. Fortunately, there will be more VIP performances in the next season.

This story was written by Nancy Flaherty. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Nancy Flaherty, General Manager of Marquette Television
Nancy Flaherty is a senior from Watertown, South Dakota majoring in public relations and minoring in corporate communications. Previously, she was the Executive Social Media Producer. She's excited to be the General Manager of the Marquette University Television Station for the 2023-2024 school year. Nancy is looking forward to helping new MUTV volunteers and hanging out with her friends in the newsroom. In her free time, she enjoys creating watercolor art, watching West Wing and trying new recipes to bring to work.

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *