Playwright: Lisa D’Amour
Venue: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs, CO.
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance: Friday, January 23, 2015.
Detroit, the city, is pretty much the poster child/city for colossal and total urban decay.* Detroit, the play, focuses on the logical, if largely forgotten, extension of that urban decay to suburbia. Lisa D’Amour’s script follows two couples as they descend from personal and financial crises into full blown emotional and moral disasters.
Detroit at Theatreworks does not disappoint; the company has high standards for production values and talent, both of which are in evidence here. That said, though, high production values and a talented cast is sometimes not enough to overcome an aimless and ultimately pointless script. Although Detroit was a Pulitzer Prize nominee in 2011 (Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris was the winner), I found the script lacking in direction and substance.
Although we seldom associate the suburbs with “urban” decay, Detroit brings the reality of
hard times to those who thought they were escaping the dangers of urban living. When the city collapses, the “middle class” also feels the pain. In the case of Ben (Greg Wise) and Mary (Shannon Haragan), they appear to have done everything right. With a house in the suburbs and Ben’s job as a banker, they should be living the dream. But when Ben is laid off, the couple goes into a tail spin. There is no work to be had, and Ben’s plan to become a web based financial consultant is fatally flawed. Ben and Mary learn that suburban life is no protection from economic ruin.
|Packard Plant, closed in 1954. Photo credit: Wikipedia.|
|L-R: Shannon Haragan, Greg Wise, Todd d'Amour, Carley Cornelius.|
Kenny (Todd d’Amour) and Sharon (Carley Cornelius) move in next door to Ben & Mary, hoping for a new start. Their lives are in chaos; both have addiction issues and neither have any demonstrable skills that would help them turn their lives around. Their presence in this strange suburb is a essentially a result of squatting; they don’t own, rent, or otherwise have a claim to be Mary and Ben’s neighbors. They move in without a single piece of furniture, a situation Mary can’t abide. She loans them a coffee table. That coffee table gives Mary some comfort, but Kenny and Mary have little interest in accumulating furniture or anything else.
Detroit is a slow but predictable descent into chaos, beautifully staged but sadly unfulfilling. It’s clear from the outset that the veneer of suburban respectability is about to be obliterated. Unfortunately, destruction for its own sake is not much of a story, and Detroit doesn’t try to give us anything of value as a take away. There is no lesson learned, no redemption, no likable characters, and no message in Detroit. There is simply foreseeable, Kafkaesque carnage of things both tangible and intangible.
Carley Cornelius turned in a marvelous performance last season in Venus in Fur at Theatreworks, and she is no less striking here. She plays Sharon with sincerity and mischievousness. At times pensive and gloomy, she can turn on a dime and change a cookout into a primal, tribal orgy. She’s flirty, feisty, and full of attitude. Cornelius has now shown us twice that any director who is looking to cast an actress as a “bad girl” need look no further.
Todd d’Amour is a convincing Kenny, showing us through some physical gestures/ and trembling the residual effects of his heavy drug use. He’s a perfect match for Cornelius’ Sharon, complementing her playfulness with his sincere effort to fit in a lifestyle he knows nothing about. His attempt to build a deck is pitiful; he’ll never be the suburban guy doing standard male household chores. When Sharon pulls out all the stops, he gladly abandons all pretense and lets his primitive alter ego loose.
Both Mary and Ben are naive, and both actors (Shannon Haragan and Greg Wise) are easily led over the cliff by their new neighbors. Wise is especially fun to watch as he transforms from the banker he was to a limber, sexy dancer, showing some moves we would never have expected. His performance requires him to reveal a truth to Mary and the others, and when he does so, I just sat there wondering why I didn’t see it coming. Wise kept a secret from his onstage wife, and we (or, at least, I) had no clue until he decided to disclose it.
Scenic Designer Jonathan Weitz had a huge challenge for Detroit. He had to create a set that could be burned down on stage. He more than met that challenge with an truly creative design. Part of that set design requires lighting that creates the “fire.” Lighting Designer Vance McKenzie skillfully created the fire illusion.
Director Shana Gold directs, blocks, and choreographs a delicate dance of delusional self destructive characters. It’s a stunning dance, one in which the characters lose all touch with reality. Sound designer Alex Ruhlin brings the beat for the dance, giving the cast the necessary soundtrack for their escape from sanity.
Haragan and Cornelius, in their quest for domestic peace and a future they think will be better, embark on a “campout” in “the wild.” Never mind that neither of them seems capable of surviving in the relative civilization of the suburbs. They both seek “the wild” as an escape and, hopefully, a new start. It is no surprise that they only get as far as a gas station and head back home.
That campout, however, is the source of what may be the only profound moment in the entire script. After a fire destroys their home, Ben and Mary are standing in front of the rubble. Mary asks Ben “what used to be here before?” Ben answers “Farms.”
Mary clarifies her question: “No. Before that.”
Ben’s answer is telling. “I don’t know. The wild, I guess.”*
That’s right. “The wild.” Exactly what Mary and Sharon were seeking. Perhaps they were already where they wanted to be. Perhaps they had always been there. Or, perhaps, “the wild” is gone forever. We may never know for sure.
Despite a talented cast and a very creative director and crew, Detroit left me feeling short changed. The characters didn’t develop. They deconstruct. It is very difficult to empathize with characters whose flaws are self-inflicted. I had a queasy feeling, as if I was driving by a fatal car accident. I had to look, but looking didn’t make me feel like I was a better person for having seen it. In fact, it was a little creepy, a little scary, and very disturbing.
Detroit is not for everyone. We all realize that urban decay has seeped into suburbia. Detroit will not be a revelation in that regard. Use your judgment; this is provocative, challenging theater. Objects in the rear view mirror may be larger and more disturbing than you expected.
*I have nothing whatsoever against Detroit the city. I spent 4 months there in 2004, and met some of the best, most dedicated people ever. The spirit of Detroit is what is keeping it from becoming an urban desert.
**Quotes are approximate; I was not able to confirm the exact wording in the script.
This show is suitable for ages 16 and up (Theatreworks recommendation). It contains adult language, profanity, sexual references, and adult situations.
This production closes on February 8, 2015.
Pre or Post Show Dining Suggestion:
We stopped at Mollica’s Italian Market, 985 Garden of the Gods Road (exit 146 on I-25, thenwest) before the show. It’s a classic Italian deli and market, but with restaurant seating. It’s a straight shot to/from the theater, and less than a 10 minute drive. Menu here. The traditional meat lasagna is wonderful (half portion for $9.95, full portion is $12.95). Pizza and calzones come with your choice of house salad or a cup of soup. Ten inch, 2 topping pizzas start at $13.95.
PHOTO CREDITS: Theatreworks, unless otherwise noted.
Director: Shana Gold
Stage Manager: Timothy J. Muldrew
Scenic Deisgn: Jonathan Wentz
Sound Design: Alex Ruhlin
Lighting Design: Vance McKenzie
Costumes: Amy Haines
Kenny: Todd d’Amour
Sharon: Carley Cornelius
Ben: Greg Wise
Mary: Shannon Haragon
Frank: Michael Demaree