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DETROIT ’67 presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati through April 5. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
Director D. Lynn Meyers makes great use of the space and elicits memorable performances from her cast. The solid five-person ensemble includes Darnell Pierre Benjamin as Sly, Bryant Bentley as Lank, Burgess Byrd as Bunny, Zina Camblin as Chelle and Leslie Goddard as Caroline.
Bentley serves as the focal point for the show and does excellent work. His relationships with each character are fully-formed and very believable. Simply put, he is a good man and a bit of a dreamer.
Byrd is fun, sassy and quite the force of nature as go-to-girl Bunny. I enjoyed the underlying mother-hen quality to her character. The scene where Chelle confided her fears to Bunny about Lank’s decision-making, worked really well.
Part of the success of the character of Bunny has to go to costume designer Chad Phillips. The bold prints and smart accessories visually defined the character creating a great synergy with Byrd’s performance. Another highlight was Sly’s celebratory purple jacket. Across the show, all costumes were vintage and fit the characters nicely.
I also enjoyed the dynamic between Lank and Benjamin’s Sly. Their close, “partners in crime” friendship worked well. When it comes the ladies, Sly is a bit of a good-natured player. It’s effective when he lets that persona drop a bit to reveal his honest affection for Chelle.
Camblin has a strong character in overly-protective Chelle. She handles the role well, but on opening night she didn’t seem 100% comfortable yet. I do think there were a couple of opportunities to see her character’s shell crack a bit more, especially in her second act scene with Sly. This would create an even stronger emotional impact later.
The character of Caroline is a bit frustrating to me. As written, the audience is given practically no information about her in the first act. so we go into intermission with little sense on how she fits into the narrative. The role is nicely played by Goddard. Caroline’s relationship with Lank reads as genuine and their quiet scene together works well.
Excellent work by set designer Brian c. Mehring and the properties master, Shannon Rae Lutz. The sound of the wooden staircase and the metal support beams immediately evoked memories of my childhood home. I probably say this at least once a year, but when it comes to filling a set with “life clutter,” no one does it better than Lutz. Her choices are always extremely interesting, thoughtful and fun to explore.
I did what to mention that there were moments I had trouble hearing and understanding the dialogue. At times the actors became a bit too soft, other times the issue seemed to be that they were facing upstage. During the confrontation between Chelle and Caroline, the latter was blocked near the bar, facing toward Chelle for a long stretch of dialogue, upstaging herself to most of audience right. Also at times, a few of the acting choices were too small or lacked a physical component to read to the back of the house.
Overall a solid production that packs an emotional punch. Another tale that puts a face to the statistics of a tragic moment in history. A moment, unfortunately, still reflected in current events.
My rating: 4.0 out of 5
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