When Dominique Morisseau’s historical play “Detroit ‘67” opened May 13 at the Detroit Public Theatre on Woodward, it lacked only Morisseau, the playwright who grew up in the city and planned to speak afterward.
“I am currently recovering from major surgery,” Morisseau wrote on Facebook, “and I will be limited in my communication over the next couple weeks.”
Her agent, Jonathan Mills, was even less specific.
“Dominique had a small emergency,” Mills wrote in an email, “... but is on the mend, doing very well, and should be back in action in the next week or so. She is still hoping to make it to Detroit for the production” (which closes on June 5).
That sounded more encouraging than Morisseau’s original Facebook message of last week. On that same night, another of her three Detroit plays, “Skeleton Crew,” opened in New York.
“I am in a hospital bed where I have been for seven days,” Morisseau wrote. “I will be recovering from a lifesaving surgery ... I will be meditating on white light and focusing on healing my body. Weird thing is, I wrote these plays to heal my soul.”
She added “I’m not going to elaborate” on the medical details.
“Detroit ‘67” focuses on the riot/rebellion of that summer. This version still has the historical verisimilitude and intimate presentation space that it did when it opened in New York three years ago.
But some dialogue has been toughened up by the current director, Kamilah Forbes, who, Morisseau said before her illness, enhanced the theme of police brutality that contributed to Motor City violence 49 years ago.
A character in the ensemble cast — “Lank” played by Amari Cheatom — uses the word “pig” a lot to describe police officers who hassle him on the streets.
The play is set is a basement of a house where Lank and his sister “Chelle” (Michelle Wilson) are running an after-hours party place (a “blind pig,” in Detroit parlance). The riot intrudes with all that burning, shooting and looting — and worse.
“Big mess outside,” says their friend “Bunny,” exuberantly played by Jessica Frances Dukes. “Negroes mad. Even white folks mad.”
Lank adds, “Mad at me for being an uppity kind of n-----.”
His buddy “Sly,” played by Brian Marable, says “This is about pigs hatin’ n-----. That’s what this fire’s about.”
Morisseau said the changes came about after recent police shootings and other deaths of young black men in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland and New York.
For emphasis, video of these incidents is projected between scenes onto surfaces at the sides of the stage. One of the videos shows the police beating of Rodney King that led to riots in Los Angeles in 1992.
Wednesdays-Sundays through June 5
Detroit Public Theatre
Allesee Hall, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center
3711 Woodward, Detroit