OFFBEAT: Northlight's 'Detroit '67' a stage return to turbulent time

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-12-02T00:00:00Z 2013-12-02T13:23:06Z OFFBEAT: Northlight's 'Detroit '67' a stage return to turbulent timeBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

I've seen 8-track cassettes. But since I was born in 1970, their mod-technology "hey-day" happened just prior to my time of musical awareness.

My age also means the Detroit Riots of 1967 are only familiar from history books.

Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, offers a Midwest Premiere stage run this month of "Detroit '67" by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Ron OJ Parson, adding faces and story characterization connections to this turbulent time in the Michigan city.

This production started Nov. 8 and continues at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie, until Dec. 15.

The 1967 family focus of this two and a half hour, one-intermission story is on a close brother and sister, named Chelle and Lank, who have recently lost their parents. They run an after-hours club in the basement of their parents' house.  Using the music of Motown as a blended backdrop to season the struggles and success shared by the duo, the play recently completed an acclaimed run in New York with the Public Theater in conjunction with the Classical Theatre of Harlem and the National Black Theatre.

Tyla Abercrumbie as Chelle and Kamal Angelo Bolden as Lank are believable as clashing siblings who really seem to care about one another and the entangled lives and ideas of each other.  Coco Elysses is a ball of fun and fire as best friend Bunny, while Kelvin Roston, Jr. is Sly, the devoted friend to all. When Cassandra Bissell as Caroline, a young woman from "the other side of town," enters their world, these four friends find their lives and loves will never be the same. 

As has been the case with a few recent plays I've reviewed this fall, this production runs about 20 minutes longer then necessary and could stand some editing and tightening throughout to eliminate some repetitive sequences and conversations between characters. This is a powerful story with important messages to share, and so also needs to move at a pace that propels the characters and drama forward.

The creative team for "Detroit '67" is commended for combining scenes, visuals and surrounding sounds to transport the audience to this uncertain era. Jack Magaw captures the scenic design nicely for the siblings' parents' safe and comfortable basement, complete with a bounty of 8-tracks and spinning records. Nan Cibula-Jenkins offers costumes perfectly in tribute to the time and JR Lederle's lighting and Nick Keenan's sound, along with Penny Lane Studios wigs/makeup all serve as time machine tools.

Tickets are $25 to $75, with student tickets at $15, for any performance by calling (847) 673-6300 or

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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