Lisa D’Amour’s dark comedy Detroit, which opened at the Eternity Theatre on July 22, is a profoundly humorous, if rather disturbing, critique of the decaying economic and social structure of middle class America.
The work was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2013.
Ben and Mary invite new next door neighbours Sharon and Kenny over for the stereotypical barbecue in an unnamed suburb of a mid-sized American city. What is abundantly clear from the outset is that even with the trappings of normality, the patio, gas barbeque and umbrella, no one here is living the quintessential American dream.
Ben (Ed Wightman) has lost his job in a bank where he worked as a loan officer.
“I don’t know who is doing the work anymore,” he laments. Meanwhile, he is taking the opportunity to set up his own financial planning business online.
His uptight wife Mary (Lisa Chappell) is a paralegal with a deep fear of financial insecurity. Her newly-acquired strategy, using alcohol to keep a lid on things, is beginning to unravel. Sharon (Claire Lovering) and Kenny (James ‘O’ Connell), with their rather manic friendliness, have nothing to their name – not even any furniture – and are fresh out of rehab.
As the play unfolds, the awkward, uneasy relationships, in part based on social differences, bring ‘desperations’ out from beneath the surface with hurts, inadequacies and hidden desires spilling over, often with explosive force.
Frank (Ronald Falk), who makes an appearance as the play comes to a close, is an old man with experience and knowledge of the neighbourhood and American society. He comments interestingly, and with great stage presence but at rather too much length, on the events that have been revealed.
Directed with skill and aplomb by Ross McGregor, all the main characters give clever, edgy performances provoking hilarity and unease in equal measure. Claire Lovering as Sharon is particularly fine. Tobhiyah Stone Feller’s set is simple yet representative of a suburban dream gone wrong and Benjamin Brockman’s lighting is inspired: both enhance the dramatic conclusion of the play.
The script, absorbing in its wit and pace, does on occasions use an over abundance of ‘new age speak’.
Above all, this play is outrageously entertaining.
Detroit is playing at The Eternity Playhouse until 16 August 16. Book on the Darlinghurst Theatre website.