Race riots take center stage at Sam Houston

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Condon

The race riots that took place during the summer of 1967 in Detroit, Michigan is set as the background of Dominique Morisseau’s play, “Detroit ’67.” Sam Houston State University’s theater department performed this play March 3-5 in the Erica Starr Theatre. Directed by Aaron Brown, the show tells the story of two siblings who are using their basement as an after-hours hangout spot in order to make ends meet. The play introduces the audience to the characters of Lank and Chelle, a brother and sister pair, as well as their friends Bunny and Sly. The story begins as an almost light-hearted tale of siblings having different ideas and dreams, but when the character of Caroline, a young white woman with a troubled past is introduced, deeper problems arise.

Before the play even began, it was obvious what the important themes of the story were just from the set design. Photos of human rights activist Malcolm X, artwork of the Black Power fist as well as numerous Motown records covered the walls of the “basement” on stage.

These details would be helpful for someone in the audience who may not have been familiar with the story of the play to know what to expect.

While the set was a helpful guide for the plot, it was the characters that really brought the story to life. By having five unique, intricate characters, each individual actor and actress was able to shine and stand out from the rest of the cast.

The motherly and sensible character of Chelle, played by junior Johanna Wylie-Turner, provided a great contrast to her fun and easy-going friend Bunny, played by junior Rayevin Johnson. The go-getter and dreamer character of Chelle’s younger brother Lank, played by freshman Jalen Tinsley, was a cohesive match for his entrepreneurial friend Sly, played by senior Brandon Collins. Having this close-knit group of friends who felt comfortable and safe around each other was a stark contrast to the reality of Caroline, played by SHSU senior Taylor Orsak.

This play shares the harsh realities many African-Americans faced, and still face, in America. Showing how African-Americans deal with prejudice, racial discrimination and police brutality were important elements of the story and showed the sad truth that these elements could still be applied in today’s society.
One of the most powerful moments of the show took place in the final scene.

The character of Chelle was experiencing a monumental heartbreak and as she was delivering this scene a slideshow of numerous African-Americans who were killed due to police brutality played in the background, providing an emotional, memorable ending.

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