BWW Reviews: Wilbury Group Lights Up the Stage with High-Energy DETROIT
In terms of longevity and legacy, The Wilbury Group is still one of the newest kids on the block in the Rhode Island theater community. Founded only three years ago, they have been growing quickly, moving last season into a new space where they have settled in very nicely. Along with finding their home as far as the physical space is concerned, they also have begun to find their groove, artistically and technically. If the first play of this season is any indication, they are ready for another big growth spurt and area audiences are in for some exciting, riveting works of theater.
Detroit is a play that begins with a simple enough premise. A couple living in a middle-class, maybe upper-middle-class, suburb have invited their new neighbors over for a barbecue. The suburb could be just outside of the titular city or it could be anywhere in the United States. Middle-aged and seemingly well-off, the first couple are either the picture of suburban harmony or they are trying very hard to fake it. The other couple, younger and definitely lower in class, are just recently out of rehab and everything about them indicates a struggle and desire to make their lives work, if they can only figure out how.
Lisa D'Amour is the playwright and she has crafted a universal piece of work that any audience member will relate to. In this day and age, most audience members will probably relate directly, since they are likely unemployed or underemployed, just like the characters. Or, they are employed but unhappy. Or, struggling with addiction and recovery. Or, they are living a life that may or may not be a hollow, empty shell of what they hoped it would be or thought it should be. These are the trials and tribulations of the characters and, really, of almost everyone in our modern-day society.
It is clear that D'Amour writes from a female perspective and point of view, and there isn't anything wrong with that. Her two female characters are well crafted, true to life, fascinating and believable. Her two men, though, don't fare nearly as well. In one scene in particular, the two men share a moment and plan a guy's night out, but it sounds nothing like how guys really talk to each other when they are alone together. D'Amour doesn't write men nearly as well as she writes women. She also tends to let scenes go on much too long. There a more than a few moments and scenes that linger too long for no good reason. Worst of all, there is a useless and unnecessary scene tacked onto the end of the play, after what should have been the ending. D'Amour actually introduces a new character who blathers on, introducing silly new plot points and then basically telling the audience what the play was about, just in case they didn't get it. As a writer, she needs to trust her audience to understand the play or make sure that she's getting the point across in the telling of the story.
Having said that, Detroit, as a script, does have some inspired moments. It is at times hilarious and heartbreaking, and in the capable hands of director Josh Short, all of the script's best moments get their due. Short trusts the words and his actors, and the entire production is better off for it. The play's action feels organic and true to life, rather than seeming as if it's only happening because the director said so.
Bringing that kind of truth to life on stage is also up to the actors and in this case the ensemble is almost perfect. First and foremost are the two actresses, Melissa Penick as Mary and Clara Weishahn as Sharon. If these two aren't lifelong best friends offstage, then they have fooled everyone, because their chemistry and bond onstage is astonishingly real. With D'Amour's writing and Short's directing helping them out, Penick and Weishahn are a flawless team onstage and both deliver wonderful performances. They're also a great contrast in styles, with Penick's Mary all internal energy and under the surface tension, while Weishan's Sharon is much more external, all flailing arms and boundless excitement. It is a pleasure to watch these two actresses work together.
As mentioned, the men don't fare as well. David Tessier does give another outstanding performance as Kenny, Sharon's arguably poor white trash husband. Kenny is the type of guy who seems like he'd be great to hang out and have a beer with but there's also always something under the surface, something unknown and maybe sinister. Tessier gives the audience just enough to wonder and maybe fear what Kenny is really thinking. As Ben, Mary's husband, David Rabinow is the weak link the ensemble. His performance is awkward; he seems unable to settle on who or what he is trying to play. Some of his line deliveries make no sense in context and there are moments when he doesn't seem to know what to do. Up against the rest of the ensemble, his performance just isn't believable.