Tag Archives: TheatreSquared

Detroit 67 – Fayetteville, AR and Streaming

Playwright and MacArthur “Genius” Dominique Morisseau can weave a richer story with a handful of characters than most people can tell with a cast of dozens.  This makes her a great match for TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Arkansas: a small space with a worldly audience.  Set against the backdrop of the historic bloody clash between the Detroit police and Black residents, their current production of Morisseau ’s Detroit 67 is all too current in its themes.  To bring in some extra cash, Lank and his sister Chelle are running an off-licensed after-hours bar in their basement.  It is similar to the one that was violently raided by police, sparking five days of rioting that ended in over 40 deaths and thousands of arrests.  As in the play, then-governor Romney had to call in the National Guard and President Johnson provided two army divisions to restore peace.  

Though Morisseau keeps the action confined to the siblings’ basement, she uses exposition sparingly and instead explores the social and emotional impact of the turmoil outside through well-drawn relationships.  We learn that though they are close, Chelle (a simmering Devereau Chumrau) and Lank (Tenisi Davis moving fluidly between tenderness and fury) have conflicting opinions about how to use their small inheritance.  Lank is encouraged in his riskier plan by his close friend Sly (smooth Christopher Alexander Chukwueke).  But his downgrading of the safety net provided by family and friends is challenged by Caroline (pixyish Jenna Krasowski), a young white woman who literally stumbles into his life.  The quintet is rounded out by Bunny (crowd favorite Na’Tosha De’Von), who relishes all  that life brings her way.  Through this battle between dreaming big and playing it safe, Morisseau tells a story that covers race, class, and the lies of the American Dream in a deeply personal and genuine way.  

Christopher Alexander Chukwueke, Devereau Chumrau, Na’Tosha De’Von and Tenisi Davis; photo by Wesley Hitt

Well-timed comebacks and the use of uplifting Motown tunes provide light around the shadows.  The songs of the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and others form a bridge between the characters and the audience and momentarily erase all barriers.  It is the soundtrack of a particular time and place, but also a connector to our world.

The staging by director Dexter J. Singleton is somewhat constrained by Baron Pugh’s detail-oriented set.  Look closely at the walls, and Chelle’s and Lank’s childhoods envelop them.  The essential bar, worn furniture, and decor lend an appropriate hemmed-in vibe to the action.  Costume designer Azalea Fairley visually differentiates the characters, giving Bunny bold prints and highest heels, dressing Chelle in muted tones and flats, and displaying Caroline’s petite curves in Chelle’s cast-offs.  Sound design by Bill Toles expands on the wondrous playlist.

I deeply appreciate the considerate and inclusive opportunity TheatreSquare provides to participate in their varied season.  Their modest four-camera set-up always provides an engaging home experience complete with a warm welcome from their staff and volunteers.  Each streaming pass is good for 24 hours.  The instructions are easy to execute and the recording is of above-average quality. 

As the first piece in Morisseau’s Detroit Project, Detroit ’67 is a thrilling introduction to her potent work.  It is available on-stage and via streaming through Sunday, November 6.  Runtime is approximately 2 ½ hours including intermission.  Tickets are available at https://tix.theatre2.org/events and range from $37-$57 for the live show at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville and $25-$35 for individual and household streaming passes.

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Tiger Style – Arkansas and Streaming

In Mike Lew’s Tiger Style, Albert Chen is the congenial, underperforming younger brother of Jenny, a first rate doctor with a third rate love life.  The 30-something Chinese Americans share the burden of navigating the chasm between being born in Southern California yet being viewed as exotic in the case of Jenny or muted as Albert is. They vow to get out of their boxes even though they have no experience in out-of-the box thinking.  What they lack in rebellious nature, they make up for in their bond to one another.  But is “you and me against the world” enough of a force to create change? Certainly the characters swing for the fences, going all the way to another country in search of the right tools.  Act II takes place primarily in Shenzhen, China where they have familial roots.  While the tone expectantly shifts, the direction of that shift is surprising and the work veers towards farce.  

Director Chongren Fan expertly steers the action through the varying beats.  The stage is triangular, with two sides often hosting different scenes.  The set by Chika Shimizu incorporates multiple doors and revolving walls that help us move quickly to each location.  These pieces take on a mood elevating function in the more physical Act II.  Simple elements define each location: a Beyoncé quotation over Jennifer’s couch, a chaise in the therapist’s office, and a wooden bar and chairs in the parents’ home. Costume design by YuanYuan Liang is similarly stripped down, with an Oscar the Grouch T-shirt and matching plaid jackets helping to define characters.  Sparkling fabrics make their arrival in the second half of the play when the siblings’ outfits also undergo subtle changes.  While these likely began as budgetary requirements, the effect helps to draw parallels between Jenny’s and Albert’s American lives and their experiences in China.  They are essentially living in the same apartment with the same “baggage.”  Yi-Chung Chen’s light design includes chase lights around the floor tiles which cleverly add definition and sense of place.

Brandon Ruiter, Brian Kim McCormick, and Eileen Rivera perform well in multiple roles, but with little differentiation.  The impact of this creative decision puts the weight of success squarely on the shoulders of the two central characters.  The appealing Hyunmin Rhee plays Albert with warmth and charming bewilderment while the sharp Stephanie Shum finds heart at the center of the frustrated Jenny.  The dynamic between them has the perfect balance of friction and affection.  Making the most of Lew’s nicely crafted banter, the two actors bounce off each other in genuine rhythm that functions as a metronome holding the disparate tones of the work together.  

Stephanie Shum and Hyunmin Rhee in Tiger Style at TheatreSquared; Photo by Wesley Hitt

Tiger Style begins boldly as an exploration of cultural inheritance and racial profiling.  It’s a heavy lift for a generally light script that concludes with physical comedy and word play.  The experience is certainly enjoyable, but lacks some of the lasting impact of Lew’s Teenage Dick.  Performances run through April 10 in the West Theatre at TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring Street in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Tickets range from $20-$54 and can be purchased at  theatre2.org.  As an alternative, a 24 hour digital pass starts at noon on your chosen day which is how I was able to enjoy the work all the way in New York City.  Live runtime is 2 hours and 15 minutes (1:54 when streamed without intermission.)