The street names in Lisa D’Amour’s play Detroit sound sunny and full of promise, but the reality is dark and scary for the inhabitants of this first-ring Motor City suburb. The once house-proud and active ‘burb is divided between the Haves, the Have Nots and the Never Hads—everyone clinging to their houses as if to a life raft. They also cling to the idea of home ownership as the be-all and end-all, their homes a bulwark against the insecurities and instabilities roiling outside the front door.
Miss D’Amour challenges our wistful notions of home and suburban escapism in her chaotically funny and disruptive play Detroit, its sense of teeter-totter collapse masterfully rendered under the direction of John Vreeke leading a fierce cast.
Mr. Vreeke, set designer Tom Kamm and lighting designer Colin K. Bills dispense any shred of making the audience feel smugly removed from the characters’ desperate circumstances by placing the audience on either side of the stunningly realistic set, which consists of two back-facing houses and their abutting backyards—one neat and peppy with outdoor furniture, the other full of weeds, pieces of splintery wood and a barbeque pit that looks like a shortcut to hell. Grainy black-and-white family home movies are projected on the houses’ back walls.
In a sense, we become the close-in neighbors of the two main couples. Ben (Tim Getman) and Mary (Emily Townley) were once upwardly mobile and now are hanging onto what they’ve achieved by their fingernails. With Ben laid off from his finance job and Mary the overworked breadwinner, they are trying to drum up that heartland can-do gumption and see all this as an opportunity for reinvention.
They need a distraction from the struggle against the downward spiral of financial ruin—and boy do they get it when new neighbors, Sharon (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffrey) and Kenny (Danny Gavigan)—young, hip and tattooed—make their acquaintance.
Suddenly, patio barbeques and back fence chats take on a whole new edge with Sharon and Kenny in the mix. Fresh out of rehab for their 24/7 partying lifestyle, devoid of furniture or homey tchotskes (the bed sheet curtains on their windows defiantly stay that way weeks after they’ve moved in) and full of colorful stories, Sharon and Kenny are exotic creatures to the striving Ben and Mary.
The young couple lives paycheck to paycheck and seems to want nothing—except good times and living in the moment. Ben and Mary flutter around them like moths to the flame—curious about them, at once attracted and repulsed by them and even feel a little bit superior.
Both couples work to defy the belief that the Bright Acres suburb is isolating and dead by re-instituting neighborly contact and community with a vengeance. Mary even tries to relive her Girl Scout days by taking Sharon camping—a knuckleheaded scheme that goes hilariously a-cropper—while Kenny convinces Ben to go on a boys’ night out tour of strip clubs.
Yet, Sharon and Kenny prove not to be merely trashy neighbors. They symbolize the power of Zero, the crazy nihilistic lure of having nothing and being nobody. Their destructive force lies in their not caring, their squandering and losing anything and everything that comes their way.
Closes October 6, 2013
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D St NW
1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $25 – $87
Wednesdays thru Sundays
The cast realizes these unsettling truths with clear-cut brilliance, aided by Mr. Vreeke, who once again proves he is prose’s best friend as he draws the humor and insights out of every line. Miss Townley excels as unhappy Mary, determined to put on a bright, brave face as everything she knows and cares about crumbles beneath her sensible shoes. Mr. Getman does some of his best work as the floundering Ben, who wields BBQ tongs not just as a cooking implement but as a means to hang on for dear life.
Miss Fernandez-Coffey practically leaves scorch marks as the volatile Sharon—friendly and garrulous one minute, spectacularly snarly and losing her marbles the next. As her partner in crime, Mr. Gavigan’s Kenny seems more laid-back and contained until you begin to sense that it’s all just an act.
Detroit can be seen as a metaphor for a dying suburb and the death knell for a peculiarly American way of life. But it also can be seen as the consequences of the shrinking of the middle class and the extremes we are forced into when there are only two classes—rich and poor.
Detroit by Lisa D’Amour . Directed by John Vreeke . Featuring Emily Townley, Michael Willis, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, Tim Getman, and Danny Gavigan. Set Designer: Tom Kamm . Costume Designer: Ivania Stack . Lighting designer: Colin K. Bills . Sound Designer: Christopher Baine . Projection Designer: Erik Pearson, .Production Dramaturg: Miriam Weisfeld . Production Stage Manager: William Cruttenden III. Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Susan Davidson . CurtainUp
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Patrick Pho . WeLoveDC
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Kate Wingfield . MetroWeekly
Jane Horwitz . Washingtonian
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