Encore Michigan

‘Mud Row’ sparkles in debut at Detroit Public Theatre’s new space

Review October 02, 2022 David Kiley

DETROIT, MI–Mud Row, a new play by Dominique Morisseau, opens the new home and performance space for The Detroit Public Theatre, and the company could hardly have chosen a better play to open a new era in a new home.

There is no playwright working today or heretofore that so readily captures the core and zeitgeist of Detroit over the generations like Morriseau who has become to the Motor City what Augsut Wilson is to Pittsburgh.

Mud Row is a story of sisterhood. Black sisterhood to be more precise. The story opens with Elsie (Adrienne Wells) a teenger and her older sister, Frances (Carman Cooper) living together in a house, but with no Mother or Father. Frances is a fighter, and has dived into the Civil Rights movement of the mid 1960s, demonstrating and marching. Elsie, meanwhile, is trying to fit into the world she was dealt and move up a station or two by way of hopefully finding a husband/breadwinner who will lift her out of the Mud Row neighborhood as if by a cherry picker.

The play time-shifts between Elsie and Frances in the 1960s to Elsie’s granddaughters, Regine (Stori Ayers) and Toshi (Jade Radford) in the present day. Grandma Elsie’s house has been empty for five years sine her death, virtually untouched with pictures on the shelves and old notes and letters in Elsie’s desk. Toshi and her boyfriend Tyriek (Henri Franklin) have been squatting in the house for three months when her estranged sister Regine and her husband Davin (Brian Marable) turn up looking the house over before they plan to sell it. Toshi’s history of drug use and stealing from Regine has created distance between the two.

The parallels between the two generations feel natural and is central to the story of the “line” of women in this family–the legacy of fighting, love and togetherness preached by Grandma Elsie and held dear by she and Frances. One big difference, though, between the two generations is the presence of men. Elsie and Frances had no relationship with their father and no husbands. Elsie becomes pregnant as a teen, and the birth father is never a factor or presence in her or her daughter’s lives. Frances never marries. The absence of fathers and husbands in their lives is palpable and all too common on Mud Row. Interesting that Morisseau depicts the two men in the lives of Regine and Toshi as devoted, but neither woman has a child.

The play is cast superbly. The contrast between Wells’ Elsie and Cooper’s Frances is stark, but the two actresses work Morriseau’s words and intent to make their bond unmissable and unmistakable.  Ayers’ Regine and Radford’s Toshi beautifully recreate that contrast, but in a different way. The actors and Morriseau’s storytelling have us expecting the sisters to somehow work out their differences, even if it is a bumpy road to get there.

Poet Robert Frost said: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. It is never so true as when you are talking about black women whose mothers and grandmothers have fought for Love and togetherness and imparted that responsibility to their daughters and granddaughters. It is no secret that black women are the spine, as well as the muscle of their families and communities. And though Toshi is definitely a challenge, a line given to Marable’s Davin (paraphrase) “You can always hope for someone to find themselves as long as they have hope themselves.”

The men in the cast do an excellent job of representing their support of their partners with love, randiness, glibness and humor. With never saying the exact words, both are all about “I got you.”

Deftly directed by Lamar Perry, Nicholas Ponting designed the set, while Aharon Thomas did costumes. Jarrett Thomas–lighting; Lumumba Reynolds II–sound; Pegi Marshall–properties; Jen Pan–fight choreography; Cornell Jermaine–wigs and makeup; Dante Jones–fight captain.

Detroit and the city’s black community have been used, abused and cast off for decades, with the efforts at times even directed or enabled by some of the city’s black mayors. It is a past full of richness, pain, injustice and poverty, a well as nostalgia, love, prosperity and excitement. To be sure, the city, in times of light and darkness, has always had a beating heart of art and music

Dominique Morriseau and The Detroit Public Theatre are but two of the current treasures.

A word about The Detroit Public

Even while interrupted by the pandemic, the founders of The Detroit Public, have catapulted the company into being a vital piece of Detroit renaissance of business and the arts.

The company’s new space at 3960 Third Ave in Detroit. The theatre can be configured in different layouts. Mud Row is being done in a theatre in-the-round. The theatre holds around 200 when maxxed out. There is a roomy lobby with bar. Previously, DPT performed in space at The Max M. Fisher Music Center. DPT is in the midst of a $5 million campaign, and is $3.5 million toward the goal.

It is a wonderful new space. And we wish DPT much success for many many years.

Week of 11/28/2022

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