'Paradise Blue:' Dominique Morisseau Play Explores What Happens When Detroit Changes

September 25, 2019, 6:30 AM by  Alan Stamm

New York cast members J. Alphonse Nicholson and Kristolyn Lloyd in "Paradise Blue" last year. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

A five-week run of "Paradise Blue," which explores the impact of social and economic changes in an earlier Detroit, starts two nights of previews Wednesday at Detroit Public Theatre. It's part of a three-play set by acclaimed local playwright Dominique Morisseau.

The five-character drama, set in Black Bottom as it's being gentrified in 1949, is the second in a cycle its creator calls "The Detroit Project." It opens the  theater's fifth season at the Fisher Music Center in Midtown.

Brian Marable, a Cass Tech and Wayne State graduate, stars a trumpeter and club owner known as "Blue." (Photo: Facebook)

InterviewTalking Aretha, Gentrification and 'Paradise Blue' With Detroit Playwright Dominique Morisseau

The jazz noir story focuses on Blue, a trumpeter who runs a club called Paradise and who's torn between staying in his neighborhood or leaving his traumatic past. A blurb at the theater's site shows Morisseau's contemporary framing: "'Paradise Blue' is a passionate, timely look at what is lost—and what is gained—by the people of a city in transition."

New York Times critic Jesse Green, writing that Morisseau "engages powerful ideas," sketched the plot last year in his review of an off-Broadway staging:

She sets the play just as incoming Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo, having run on a platform of reversing urban blight, starts making offers to buy black-owned property downtown. "We the blight he talkin’ about,” [one character] says.

A reviewer at Variety, Marilyn Stasio, wrote: "Everyone speaks in the choice idiom that Morisseau seems to have snatched from the streets of a city she obviously knows well and loves unconditionally."

Cass Tech alumni

In the new production running through Nov. 3, Detroit native Brian Marable has the lead role. He also was in the October 2017 local cast of "Skeleton Crew," written by Morisseau in 2016 as the last in her Detroit trilogy. (The first, "Detroit '67," was written in 2013 and presented here in May 2016.)

Dominique Morisseau: "I like to relive my parents' memories as if they were my own." (Photo: MacArthur Foundation)

The 41-year-old writer, who has nine well-reviewed plays to her credit, graduated from Cass Tech High School ('96) and the University of Michigan ('00). (Marable also is a Cass alumnus.)

Morisseau’s latest return here was last week for the sixth annual Detroit Homecoming event, where she spoke with local author Bridgett M. Davis on a panel about telling the city’s stories.

The 41-year-old Detroit native – who pronounces her last name moe-REESE-oh – wrote the Tony-nominated script for a current Broadway musical about the Temptations, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” another story with hometown roots. 

She lives in Los Angeles and is a co-producer of "Shameless," a Showtime series. Last year she won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," an honor sweetened by a $625,000 payment.

'Poetry of our everydayness'

In a recent three-minute video from that foundation (below) to promote the announcement of new winners today, she says: "I like to create characters that come from real life. I try to listen to the everyday language of the working people, and I try to capture the poetry of our everydayness."

She also talks about creative inspiration in a "Playwright’s Note" published with the text of "Detroit '67:"

"I'm a romantic. I like to relive my parents' memories as if they were my own. I like to see the beauty in my city and remind us all of who we are, what we did and what we have the potential to become."

See 'Paradise Blue'

  • When: Friday through Nov. 3 after pay-what-you-can previews this Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Times: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
  • Tickets: $40, $30 senior (65 and above), $25 under age 30.
  • Where: Max and Marjorie Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave.

Video feature 

This three-minute interview with Dominique Morisseau, plus scenes from her plays, was posted this month by the MacArthur Foundation.

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