Detroit, now at Playwrights Horizons, is a new play by Lisa D’Amour that never lives up to the promise of the actors. The play’s central theme, a desire for community and human interaction, is directly at odds with the moral of the story, which appears to be never befriend to strangers. The play can never decide what it wants to be or say, which is too bad because there is some great work in it. Full warning, I am probably in the minority since Detroit was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
Amy Ryan and David Schwimmer play Mary and Ben, a suburban couple with normal and manageable problems. Ben was laid off recently and is using his severance to transition into working for himself. Mary is a bit harried as on the sole bread winner and drinks a little too much wine in order to settle herself down. The house next store has been sitting empty for a while; when a new couple moves in, Mary invites them to a bar-b-que.
Ms. Ryan shows level of frustration with Mary’s life that is extremely believable. She is suddenly the only spouse working, and Ben seems okay with it. Ms. Ryan takes Mary seesawing across emotions as Mary struggles to understand what is happening. Mary's life is frustrating in new ways she doesn't understand and can't cope with.
The new neighbor couple is Sharon and Kenny, played by Sarah Sokolovic and Darren Pettie. We find out right away they are recovering addicts, which might account for their roller coaster moods. Ms. Sokolovic’s Sharon veers wildly between happiness and gratitude for being included in the community, she is overly sensitive and awkwardly demonstrative. Mr. Pettie’s Kenny, on the other hand, is quietly reserved, almost (but not quite) smug. Kenny seems in control, almost dangerously in control. Despite the differences, these two couples make a believable connection - perhaps because they haven't connected with anyone else in the community.
Mary, along with the new couple, Sharon and Kenny, keep the cook-out discussions very superficial, not sure that they can keep control of their emotions. When these emotions do break free, it is anyone’s guess what manifests itself. In this mix, David Schwimmer’s Ben is a perfect conduit for the audience. Ben attempts to placate both his wife and slightly crazy people next door, while maintaining a normal neighborly relationship. Mr. Schwimmer’s calm demeanor grounds Detroit in reality.
Ultimately Sharon and Kenny prove to be a horrible influence on Mary and Ben, and everything goes wrong – both in the story and with the play. During Detroit, you often wonder where the show is going, it turns out that it isn’t going anywhere. It ends with a big finish that doesn’t resolve anything.
The scenic design, by Louisa Thompson, is amazing. It conveys the right amount of personnel public areas, the hometown patios and porches that are comfortable and familiar. Anne Kauffman directs this disjointed story. With the talent and expectations, I didn’t find the show enjoyable, I expected a lot more from Detroit.
Playwright: Lisa D'Amour
Director: Louisa Thompson
Cast: John Cullum, Darren Pettie, Amy Ryan, David Schwimmer, Sarah Sokolovic