theater (reviews)

review: detroit

Detroit

by Lisa D’Amour
Directed by Anne Kauffman

Featuring Amy Ryan, David Schwimmer, John Cullum
Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street
September 18, 2012 (opening) — October 7, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 20, 2012

  • “I have been accused of many things, but they’ve never accused me of having a dog.”
  • “Sometimes things just happen … but you have to do them. If you don’t, things just stay the same.”
  • “You girls are going to get eaten by bears.”

(L-R) Sarah Sokolovic, Darren Pettie, David Schwimmer, Amy Ryan. Image by Jeremy Daniel.

Our play’s title uses Detroit as its central metaphor. The once great American city that boomed as much as any city boomed after World War II with raw energy and hope and the burgeoning car industry that has fallen, as the rest of our country has fallen, on harder economic times.  Detroit set in the yards of mid-20th century suburban tract homes once inhabited by young families nonplussed by their uniformity and thrilled by their newness, animated by children running and streetlights and summer lightning bugs, that now look a little seedy and tired. Between a past of postwar hope and possibility and an uncertain future bounded by an economy in turmoil, we encounter in Lisa D’Amour‘s Detroit a set of neighboring couples and one distant relative, who reveal hopes, dreams, disappointments, a plantar wart (no kidding), and a large measure of joy.

Mary (Amy Ryan) and husband Ben (David Schwimmer) are in transition. She is a paralegal, currently hobbled by a foot condition and he has been laid off from his bank job and working on his next professional move. He says that he’s working on developing his own financial planning business, but no one knows for sure, and Mary is chafing a bit at the edges.  New neighbors with secrets move into the long empty house next door, and socializing ensues in backyards and front yards over a few days. Kenny (Darren Pettie) and Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic) are on their own kind of edge, living with secrets, just out of substance abuse rehab, where they may or may not have met for the first time, and trying to get their acts together living in an almost empty house.  Taking one day at a time and living each moment honestly is a lesson these characters learn from one another, carefully, sometimes a bit dangerously. John Cullum as Frank, a long-term community resident, emerges in the final scene and provides in near-monologues the emotional back story of this subdivision and the people who lived and raised families there.

D’Amour’s smart dialogue, director Anne Kauffman‘s elegantly choreographed sequences often primarily composed of movement, and characters that break your heart. In fact a late-play alcohol fueled dance party provides an almost wordless extended cathartic moment for each member of this fine ensemble of characters. Character development ebb and flow stemming from movement and lyrics and kisses and putting fingers near the emotional and literal fires.

Set design by Louisa Thompson is spare and elegant, yielding back and front yards of the each of the two neighboring homes as necessary with flipping and sliding scenery and machinery. We’re in the close quarters of yards of neighbors, as we are in some great American plays including William Inge‘s Picnic — the spatial parsimony works dramatically and thematically.  Grills and real food are used to generate powerful and evocative barbecue smells inspiring comparisons to other masterful uses in recent years — final scene food preparation in David Cromer’s Our Town comes to mind. These smells and sights also foreshadow late play events terrifyingly staged in this production. Matt Tierney‘s sound design provides music, crickets, neighbors, and delightfully completes the intimate suburban world of this play.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 25, 2012)

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