Spirit of Detroit staged reading brings strong emotions to cast, audience

After a cheerful introduction from the director, the 12 performers for the Spirit of Detroit staged reading progressed solemnly towards their seats in front of the audience.

The performance began with an eruption into a cacophony of voices filled with anger, fear and love as they paint a portrait of two Detroits; one engulfed in flames and violence, and the other that is never the same afterwards. The story of two people, black and white, man and woman, reflecting upon their memories, the dead and their separation during the fighting of 1967, was created with only the power of the human voice.

The Spirit of Detroit reading was put on by the University’s Department of Theatre and Film, dealing with the 1967 riot/rebellion that took place in the streets of Detroit and the unlawful shooting and killing of three young black men at the Algiers Motel during the tragedy. The staged reading was held this past Friday in the Heskett Acting Studio on the second floor of the Wolfe Center.

The project was chosen by the Elsewhere Theatre committee upon the urging of Michelle Cowin-­Mensah, a Detroit­-born professor, who chose the reading because of her “serious fascination with Detroit.”

“I really chose it because I had never read a play before that actually talked about a … white female’s experience during the riots,” says Cowin­-Mensah.

The white perspective in question was Lucy Macintyre, the female protagonist of the reading, who was played by Christa Federico.

“(Cowin­-Mensah) was my teacher, freshman year…and she kind of knew my style and thought this would be a really good challenge for me,” Federico said about how she became involved with the group and The Spirit of Detroit.

Yet she performed marvelously in her role portraying her character, saying, “She’s so strong­-jawed, but she’s going through so much emotional turmoil.”

Combined with the “heavy, uncomfortable script,” Federico admits that it was difficult to shake off after rehearsal.

Her co­-actor, Quincy Thomas, gave a performance as Anthony, a black male during the riots. However, the other members of the cast also used their talent to create the immediacy and depth of the time­ period and situation. These talents included Terrin Bates, Mackenzie Baumhower, Jazzmine Caldwell, Charli Habingreither, Alesa McGregor, Daniel Miskell, Octavian Moldovian, A.J. Napper, Tyler Seybold and Bessie Smith.

The audience’s response to the play was overwhelmingly emotional. Dealing with sensitive topics such as racism, death, cruelty and sexual assault, many times an unnerving hush fell over the crowd during pauses. Yet at other times uproarious laughter would force the performers to wait before they could be heard clearly again.

This performance achieved its purpose to create deep emotions from across the spectrum within the hearts of the viewers, as Natalie Plotner, a freshman student, said, “It was very intense … and it touched on a lot of very sensitive subjects.”