Reflections: Nyahale Allie on Detroit ′67

Nyahale Allie, playing “Bunny” in McCarter’s production of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67, recently sat down with us to talk about the production, her musical loves, Detroit roots, and much more.

I grew up on the east side of Detroit, around Belle Isle, which was so far out my friends used to call it “Egypt”. It was fairly deep east near Grosse Pointe, and then I moved to the west side of the city when I was in high school.

I’ve been friends with Dominique Morisseau since I was 15 years old, I was in her wedding party, and when she was writing this play, she’d get together with friends from time to time to have small readings so I was able to see this show develop early on. When I first saw it, I was so moved for her love for our city it made me love Detroit even more seeing it through her lens. It reminds me that even in the face of adversity, even today, there’s still so much joy.

Detroit is not this downtrodden place. Even with the riots, and the auto plants closing, and in the face of everything that’s happened that seems like it should break the spirit of the city, it doesn’t. Detroit is a phoenix constantly rebuilding itself. It makes me proud. People in Detroit are built strong.

This is the first time I’m actually getting to do this show, so I’m loving getting to make this character my own. I love working with this cast. I can hear Dominique’s voice every day in the script. With both of us coming up together, it’s so easy to fall into her rhythms.

This is my fifth collaboration with Jade (director Jade King Carroll). We’ve both grown a lot since our earlier days and now we’re much more specific about our choices and more patient. There’s a shorthand working with a director so many times which really makes the process smooth and supportive. She trusts you as an actor, and it’s wonderful to have that freedom.

I love old school music. One of my favorites is Donny Hathaway's “Song for You”, that’s something I got up on back in college, and it just gives me everything. The feeling behind it, the words of the’s just the soundtrack to my womanhood in college. Now, I’m a little bit all over the place to be honest. I like a little country and a little rap and a little alternative, R&B, hip-hop, I like all genres.

Dominique is very specific about the music she uses in Detroit ‘67. She moonlights as a DJ after all, so music plays a big part in her life and in her writing. There’s a scene between Caroline and Lank and they play Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Everybody Needs Love”, and it just hits you in that moment, that tension of wanting something so badly and something external getting in the way and not letting you have it. That song just works there so perfectly.

The heart and soul of this play is love. It's like the song says, everybody needs love. Positive and negative feelings are infectious. In 1967 there was this positive vibe where the music was great and the cars were booming, but the constant clashing of race and police agitation boiled over. It’s true today as well. Today everything is written down and gets mumbled and jumbled and taken out of context, it’s hard for us to love each other sometimes. And with all this social media and so many different ways of “communicating” it’s ironic that the message is getting lost.

It may sound simple, but a little love goes a long way, and it’s the strongest weapon there is. It’s at the heart of what’s happening among these characters. Everybody wants to love on some body and be loved and give love, but there’s all of these external pressures that makes life very complicated.

-Nyahale Allie