Photo: Wesley Hitt / TheatreSquared
In the play “Detroit,” on stage through February 26 at TheatreSquared, we never make it to Detroit. Two of the characters, Mary and Sharon, can barely make it out of their backyard. Their hastily planned and poorly executed camping trip finds them hiking back to their adjoining back yards after a flat tire a bit down the road.
The playbill tells us “Detroit” is set in “a ‘first ring’ suburb outside of a mid-sized American city but we’re never definitively told we’re in the Motor City or any other place. Generic suburban American is all the setting we’re provided.
And, rightly so, playwright Lisa D’Amour shows us how different life can be for everyone living in the same cul-de-sac. Mary (played by Lori Prince) and Ben (played by Vincent Teninty) seem to have everything together. They have a nice backyard and steaks on the grill to prove it. Kenny (Brian Rife) and Sharon (Laura Berner Taylor) want to get their lives together, too, and they’ve moved into the home next door by the grace of a relative. They have nothing – so little that Mary gives them a coffee table as a gesture of kindness and a thinly veiled attempt to get Ben to buy her a new one. It’s a start for Kenny and Sharon – just out of rehab and searching for a path forward.
What: TheatreSquared’s “Detroit”
When: Wed-Sun through Feb. 26
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Information: 479-443-5600 or theatre2.org
Not everyone is what they appear to be. Welcome to the suburbs. Sharon, an expert on such matters, tells Mary she has a substance abuse problem after the latter storms over after an argument with her husband. Ben, our happy-go-lucky grillmaster, has recently lost his job. He may have a porn addiction, and he certainly stares at Sharon with intent. He may or may not be working on creating his own business. Kenny may be a handy man, but his back porch is still broken to the point Ben falls through and bloodies himself. It’s not the only time a character bleeds. There’s vomit and ample swear words and a graveyard for Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, too. We’re watching a physical and mental mess unfold.
In the process, D’Amour would have us question our upward mobility, the dying middle class and semi-secret substance abuse. As a result, this play, which debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2010, has the global financial crisis and opioid epidemic as a rather real-life off-stage partner. It remains a very timely play.
But the star in the TheatreSquared production, which debuted Feb. 2, is the set design of Kimberly Powers, who makes her T2 debut. What looks simple – two houses, with two backyards – is anything but. To say more is to ruin a surprise, but know there are payoffs waiting. It’s really striking. So too is the smell of cooking meat, and the greasy smoke coming up from the grill. Even as things seem so preposterous and dream-like we’re not sure where to look or what to believe, the steaks really do cook right before the audience.
As for the payoff of “Detroit” as a whole, it’s a little more difficult to find. I left wondering what I’m supposed to believe, where dreams met reality and, more importantly, what I’m supposed to take away. We are left with two conflicting ideas in the ashes of the main plot twist. First, we don’t always know who are neighbors are. And secondly, we all wither while waiting for things to happen.
We may never make it to “Detroit,” or anywhere, unless we know our problems and confront them. And, let’s face it, we’ve all got problems. Even when everything looks in order.