Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a white Republican, announced on March 1 that the state will appoint an emergency manager to try to bring the city of Detroit, largely black, largely Democrat, and nearly broke, back from the brink of financial ruin. The night before Snyder made that racially and politically fraught announcement, as it happens, I went to the Public Theater in New York to see the world premiere of a new work by a young Detroit playwright named Dominique Morisseau. The play, Detroit '67, is set during the city's bloody riot in the summer of 1967, and, like Snyder's announcement, it is a reminder that the past will always be with us. Morisseau's play could not be more timely.
It's set in the basement of a West Side apartment shared by two siblings, the straight-arrow Chelle (Michelle Wilson) and her ambitious brother Lank (Francois Battiste), who have just received a small inheritance following their parents' deaths. They've agreed to turn the basement into an after-hours nightclub, but it's their sharply differing dreams for a better future that will drive brother and sister apart. Caught in the crossfire are their friends Bunny (De'adre Aziza) and Sly (Brandon J. Dirden). When Lank and Sly find a battered, disoriented white woman named Caroline (Samantha Soule) wandering on the street, they bring her to the basement to recuperate. The fireworks begin.