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Detroit '67
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

Playwright: Dominique Morisseau. At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets: 847-673-6300; www.northlight.org ; $25-$75. Runs through: Dec. 15

Skilled veteran director Ron OJ Parson has assembled five personable, vigorous actors who charm the audience in this African-American dramedy, centered on sister and brother Chelle ( Tyla Abercrumbie ) and Lank Pointdexter ( Kamal Angelo Bolden ), and framed by the Detroit 12th Street Riot of 1967. Guided by Parson, they create appealing and sympathetic characters as still-young adults ( although no longer kids ) with wit, hopes and energy.

The play itself is not as good as the performers. It's serviceable enough to create a slice-of-life at a specific point in time, and to provide several good comedy moments, but the characters are too familiar and the story is too predictable, even without reading the program notes ( and absolutely so if you do ). Detroit '67 seems too much like a variation on A Raisin in the Sun. In that groundbreaking 1959 play ( a fine production is playing at TimeLine Theatre ), a mother and son split on how to spend $10,000 in life insurance left by their deceased husband/father. In Detroit '67, a brother and sister split over spending their late parents' $15,000 life savings. In both cases, the young men want to invest on short notice in high-risk liquor-related enterprises. Why not make it a dry-cleaning business in Detroit '67 and avoid comparisons?

Comparison aside, author Dominque Morisseau serves up facile surface charm ( yes, it's pleasing to watch and hear ) without really digging deep into her characters. Conservative sister Chelle wants to preserve the family home for Lank, herself and her college-age son. Brother Lank and his buddy/co-investor Sly ( Kelvin Roston, Jr. ) want an independent business so they needn't spend 40 years working in Detroit auto plants. Chelle's gal pal Bunny ( Coco Elysses ) is salt-of-the-earth funny but has no influence on the outcome of the story. Into this mix Morisseau shoehorns Caroline ( Cassandra Bissell ), a young white woman whose sole purpose is to ignite socio-political statements by others in opposition to the spark between Caroline and Lank. Like Bunny, Caroline has no influence on the play's outcome as the exploding street riot shakes the secure Pointdexter household ( seen through Jack Magaw's thoroughly believable, comfy basement rec room set ). So Lank has a dream but not a plan, and Chelle has a plan but not a dream, and we've seen these characters many times before. Morisseau concludes Detroit '67 with a rueful feel-good ending between brother and sister that feels pasted on.

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Morisseau is too young to have known the 1960's first-hand, resulting in minor oddities. For instance, Lank is surprised that Caroline is familiar with Motown music—the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Gladys Knight—when every Top 40 radio station played them. Sharply played Detroit '67 has personality, certainly, but not sufficient depth.

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