Detroit: The Opera
This is the story of three families, played out in the house they all lived in at different times during the height and subsequent fall of the city 1920 to 1973. [...]
Liam, a tough immigrant from Ireland builds a house for his growing family as he makes a success of his newspaper stand business. Every day he drives through the city, seeing countless opportunities. His wife, Lil, is his biggest supporter.
Wanting his dad to be proud, his son volunteers for service in the Pacific as soon as World War II breaks out. After four years he returns from the war mentally damaged. Grandfather suggests they start a business together but the son refuses and decides to go it alone.
It’s 1951. Across from the house, a new auto plant is being built. The family handyman, Eddie Powell gets a job there. He introduces Lil to a fellow auto worker Stanley and his wife Irene. She instantly decides to sell them the house on unbelievably generous terms. Stanley and Irene can’t believe their luck. Liam and Lil move to the suburbs.
Fast forward to 1968. It is the apex of America. Though there have been riots the past two years, this year things are looking up. The Tigers have won the World Series. Apollo 8 is orbiting the moon. Everyone is still optimistic about the future.
In 1971 Stanley is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is angry and terrified about what will become of his family. The factory is closing and the neighborhood around him is in decline. After Stanley’s death, Irene moves out, but unlike Lil before her, she has no interest in who comes next.
Once again, Eddie Powell finds the new owner; this time his daughter, Mrs. Little, a devout church going woman with her son Johnny. The house is now run down, and crime is on the increase but owning her own house is as exciting to her as it was to Grandfather and Stanley.
Meanwhile, R. has never been happy or successful like his father. He drives by the old house one day with Grandson who meets Johnny. Grandson and Johnny strike up an unlikely friendship; mainly because he knows it will irritate R. But looking at the old factory just across the street from the beautiful old houses, R. finally see his big idea: a redevelopment plan for the entire neighborhood. There is a new Mayor and millions of dollars in money.
It’s 1973. The city is breaking ground on a new community development. Son is getting ready to give the biggest speech of his life. Mrs. Little and Johnny watch from their house, which will be taken down. Grandfather is there to watch with Grandson. Grandson walks over to visit with Johnny. In a security sweep, the police see Johnny showing off his gun to Grandson and try to arrest both of them. Johnny resists and is shot. The commotion disrupts the entire ceremony. Son is left on the podium in mid-speech, realizing that his dream has just been destroyed.
Liam goes to the police station to bail out C. and Johnny. As he reaches the station, he sees Grandson crying outside. He learns that Johnny has been killed by the police. He offers to take grandson back home but grandson says that he has no home. He says he hates his father and by extension Detroit. He feels betrayed by his father. They walk to Grandfather’s car and get in. Directionless, Liam drives. Without realising he avoids the freeway and instead takes the route he used to when he was young. As he drives he sings an elegy of all the great places that he remembers, but which are no more. All the while, C. wonders where he or even if he can get out.