By LIZ BYRON. The tragedy of Detroit is its relatability. There are far too many people who will relate to this story of broken promises and lost dreams. At the same time, it is not a depressing play; its strength comes from its ability to look into these dark subjects and find hope.
Detroit follows the lives of two couples trying to hang on to the American dream of suburban bliss despite the harsh realities of a lacklustre economy, the wear-and-tear of everyday life, and a host of personal problems. Mary (Angela Timberman) and Ben (John Middleton) are a middle-aged couple living a comfortably middle-class life in an outer-ring suburb of Detroit. Ben has just been laid off from his job in banking, while Mary’s job as a paralegal remains secure. When Sharon (Anna Sundberg) and Kenny (Tyson Forbes), a broke but friendly couple, move into the ramshackle house next door, Ben and Mary reach out to the new neighbours and strike up an unlikely friendship. Unlikely for, where Ben and Mary are settled and reserved, Sharon and Kenny are younger and outgoing.
Although all four main actors gave strong performances, extra props to Angela Timberman for her touching performance as Mary, which ranged from understated and tense to out-of-control and hysterical.
In watching Detroit (which, by the way, is technically set in Detroit, but could be just about any city in the USA), the audience is confronted with some uncomfortable questions. Why are most of us not friends with our neighbours? What are we afraid of? Why is it that years together in a relationship seem sometimes to wear us down rather than build us up? Why do we lie to ourselves and each other? What do we do when we find out a friend or partner has lied to us? What will we do if we lose our jobs and/or our homes? What do we do when we get stuck in a rut, and how did we get there in the first place?
An interesting result of all these uncomfortable, at least for the performance I attended, was laughter. There were several scenes that were, in my opinion, quite sad or distressing, but rather than contemplative silence, the theatre was filled with laughter. A character on stage is seriously physically injured, while his wife is running around ranting about a dog, and about her desire to go camping, and while I sat and wondered about how out-of-touch you’d have to be to not notice your bleeding husband, the rest of the audience laughed at the manic ruminations of the wife. Was I being a Debbie Downer? I think it’s more likely that people would rather laugh when uncomfortable than face the inconvenient truths.
The slightly over-the-top nature of the play is perhaps also to blame. Characters are louder and more exaggerated than the script necessarily
calls for. The set — the side-by-side backyards of the two couples — is elaborate and colourful, and there are an awful lot of special effects for a daily-life drama set in a suburban backyard. This makes the play really enjoyable to watch from an entertainment perspective, but also makes it easier to ignore the darker aspects of the story. Is this a problem? Denial is, after all, easier than confrontation. If you want an entertaining play with undercurrents of darker, more serious fodder for thought, this is good. If you’re inclined to focus on the big questions in the plot, you might find all the laughter confusing and distracting.
Detroit by Lisa D’Amour runs April 11-May 25 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis. Tickets $25-43 at www.jungletheater.com or (612) 822-7063.