Actors Discuss Detroit ’67, Dominique Morisseau’s Explosive Drama, Currently Running at the Ensemble

6 Apr , 2016  

Detroit ’67 is about heat. Tempers flare between siblings Chelle and Lank who operate a juke joint in the basement of their childhood home. And still there is even more heat outside their home. Racial and political injustice encircle this family drama. Playwright Dominique Morisseau portrays all of 1967, not only the entirety of the year, but the entirety of the cultural atmosphere–the music, the fashion, the hotheadedness of youth. Actors Kendrick “KayB” Brown (Lank) and Cynthia Brown Garcia (Chelle) discuss their roles.

Detroit ’67 is a clash of siblings, but it is also so much more than that. How do you keep the relationship between Chelle and Lank grounded while staying true to the larger themes of the play?

Kendrick “KayB” Brown: On the surface it may seem like a battle of siblings, but as you read and listen to the written words you realize that even though the siblings battle, it’s a struggle to understand each other’s ideology. I, Lank, want to build up something for us that cannot be taken away by anyone. My sister, Chelle, wants to maintain what we already possess. Even though both have strong reasons for their stance, you soon realize both siblings want the same things, just in a different manner. Knowing that information keeps me grounded in the truth because it’s all about doing what’s best for our family.

Cynthia Brown Garcia: Chelle lives for her family. Lineage and legacy are important to her. She is driven by the need to protect the foundation her parents have established for their family lineage, as well as the need to have the opportunity to pass it on to her son. As a result, it is not hard to keep the relationship with her brother grounded; even as chaos ensues around the family homestead.

In a similar vein, the play requires such emotional intensity from its actors. How have you worked as performers to achieve that intensity?

Kendrick “KayB” Brown: I believe that living in the moment truthfully brings out real emotions. Living in the words that are written helps your character emotional reach that truth. In order to be honest to the role, one must “let themselves go” and let the life of the character come through. Once that was done, the emotions just flowed.

Cynthia Brown Garcia: The emotional intensity comes very naturally as a result of ‘living in the moment.’ The theatrical stage on which we actors perform is the actual homestead of the characters whom we portray. As actors, we have to live out every moment of their lives ‘truthfully’ to the best of our ability to do justice to the telling of the story. We don’t play for the emotion per se, rather we come from a place of ‘truth’ and let the chips fall where they may.

Did Detroit ’67 change your view on the Detroit riots? Or urban riots in general?

Cynthia Brown Garcia: This play piqued my interest in the following way—what would I do, or how would I personally respond should a ‘race riot’ break out in my town? Would I hole up in my home? (Sort of what Chelle does.) Or, would I take to the streets and fight? It has been the most challenging question for myself. While I understand the underlying tensions that could resort to rioting, I am persuaded that at the end of the day I am personally a student of the Martin Luther King dogma. There are ways to evoke change in positive and productive ways, versus the converse.

Kendrick “KayB” Brown: I won’t say that it changed my views, but it put my views into prospective terms. It amazes me that the issues dealt with in the black community in 1967 parallels some of the same issues we deal with in the present (police brutality, racism, social stature, etc.). I use to think that the riots were just a waste of time, but if you understand the desire for change and the reasoning behind the riots, you can recognize why they were so vital and important to our culture.

Photo courtesy The Ensemble Theatre

Detroit ’67 continues through April 17. Performances are 7:30 p.m, Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays at The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main Street. 713-520-0055. $23 – $50

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