“Detroit” by Lisa D’Amour

at the Cottesloe Theatre, Wednesday 11th July 2012

Life in suburbia is something many of us have had experience of, and contains within it a conflict (most notably tha between the city and the country) which makes it perfect for theatrical presentation. In Detroit, Lisa D’Amour presents a searing satire on modern life in the suburbs and produces some laugh-your-head-off moments, but the overall narrative doesn’t seem to support the final ten minutes and much of the time it feels like Clybourne Park without the race issues.

Sharon and Kenny have just moved in opposite (at least I think opposite, the staging is a little confused) Ben and Mary, who are a little bemused by how “weird” their new neighbours are. They bond over some farcical mishaps, however, before Sharon and Kenny tempt Ben and Mary into “starting again”, like them. The play finishes with the two hippies wreaking destruction (*spoiler alert* they burn the house down) and scarpering, after which Frank arrives on the scene to explain the history of the community and the aspirations of the developers (“to start a conversation”, which clearly never happened).

It’s clear that these final few speeches of Frank’s are intended to support and tie up the rest of the play, but unfortunately D’Amour does not probe deeply enough or ask enough questions to make this obvious. The narrative is altogether too thin to support this argument and it becomes less of a critique of suburbia than an indictment of middle-class values and hypocrisy.

All this, however, is negligible compared to the pure wit of the piece. D’Amour paints a picture of these people to stunning accuracy and the dialogue remains a constant stream of jokes which hit the audience with wave after wave of uncontrollable laughter. Sharon talks about her bafflement at the “new internet” and Ben participates in an online community called “BritLand” where he is known as “Ian”. And for all their talking, these characters rarely have genuine conversations which amount to anything important. They are all so out-of-touch and self-absorbed that to do so is unthinkable.

Austin Pendleton (of Steppenwolf fame, who produced the premiere of the play in America) directs his five-strong cast brilliantly, teasing out nuanced and truthful performances. Will Adamsdale and Clare Dunne as Kenny and Sharon maintain an adolescent nonchalance and never seem menacing, even though their final act aligns them somewhat with symbolism of the devil. Stuart McQuarrie and Justine Mitchell initially seem their polar opposites, the former being a banker by trade and the latter supremely conscientious, but after time it’s clear they are merely Kenny and Sharon later on in life and with more money.

Kevin Depinet’s simple set allows the words to take centre stage, with the contrasting facades of the house looming over the action. Mark Henderson’s lighting shows the changing times of day without being overbearing and Anthony Capel and Matthew Scott’s music becomes integral to the plot in later scenes. Under Pendleton’s direction, Detroit is a comedy first and foremost and a social comment second, and though a deeper questioning of suburban life would have been welcome, D’Amour is shown here to be a master of comedy.

Pinterest board here: http://pinterest.com/danhutton/detroit-by-lisa-d-amour/

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3 thoughts on ““Detroit” by Lisa D’Amour”

  1. I enjoyed the show and agree with you that an attempted social critique took a back seat to the charming dialogue and comic characters. Promising start to (I think) a writing début though.

    1. I don’t think it’s a debut; as far as I can tell D’Amour is quite well established in America. Would be very interested in reading/seeing her other plays.

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