Worlds collide in Detroit, a micro-examination of suburban life, when vanilla, middle-class couple Ben and Mary invite their new neighbours, rehabilitated drug addicts Kenny and Sharon, over for a good, old-fashioned BBQ. With a plotline reminiscent of God of Carnage or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Lisa D’Amour makes up for any predictable tension with authentic characterisation and points of gentle humour.
While the characters fluctuate between conversations of financial strain, alcoholism, and the rise of the second Internet, each maintains a well-crafted integrity. Both couples are cringe-worthily accurate in their depictions of middle- and lower-class white Americans, but Claire Lovering and James O’Connell as Sharon and Kenny really stand out. Particularly Lovering, who, with her compulsion to fill the air with the sound of her voice, gives buoyancy to otherwise heavy dialogue.
The set literally revolves through both couples’ backyards and Kenny and Sharon’s front porch, which proved clumsy and inconsistent in scene changes. The stunts are executed well and land with impact, adding an immediacy to the scenes that only blood can muster. Otherwise the staging was minimised to essentials, perhaps confusing Mary’s incredulous reaction to her neighbour’s lack of furniture.
The question that kept calling from the back of my mind was why the play was called Detroit. Other than some pop culture and consumerist references, nothing about the plot, characters, or setting tied the play to Detroit, Michigan, or the US more broadly. That is, until we witnessed possibly the worst closing scene of all closing scenes. Having an old man monologue the entire play’s backstory and summarise the themes of the idyllic made-to-order suburban living of 1950-60s America is anti-climactic and lazy. If I wouldn’t listen to my grandfather recount the glory days for free, I certainly wouldn’t pay for a stranger to do it. We’re talking a top-notch combination of beating the audience over the head with symbolic nostalgia and boring them to death with the woes of a character with 15 minutes of stage time.
The ending is a pity, as it slaps a thick layer of beige over an otherwise subtle and genuinely good production.