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BWW Reviews: DETROIT – Suburbia Isn't What It Used To Be

"When you are at zero, anything can happen. It's like total possibility," says Sharon, the next door neighbor to Mary and Ben, in Lisa D'Amour's DETROIT. And that is exactly what this play is about... sliding out of your place in society's economic structure and down to zero.

Not a specific geography (this could be suburbia anywhere), the play is set in a pair of adjacent back yards. This is one of those communities where all the houses look vaguely like each other and the streets have names like Sunshine Way, Rainbow Road and Solar Power Lane.

Ms. D'Amour challenges the audience's notion of home and suburban escapism in this searing, funny and explosive play, its sense of precarious collapse beautifully realized under the direction of Mark Pickell leading a top rate cast.

It is not surprising that DETROIT was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The play also won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2013. While America is still reeling from the worst economic downturn in generations, DETROIT is acutely aware of just how precarious most people's lives still are. The observations here are of the effects of economic uncertainty on a middle-class couple, Ben (Jason Phelps) and Mary (Rebecca Robinson). What starts them on the slide has happened before the play begins. We join them on their descent as Ben and Mary are hosting a backyard barbecue for Kenny (Joey Hood) and Sharon (Rebecca Pearcy), the mysterious new neighbors, who come along to coat that slide with grease to hasten the trip to zero.

Not only does Ms. D'Amour's play have a lot to say about the middle class and the state of our economy, it is also about neighbors. Who our neighbors used to be, how we used to react and interact with them and just how much the American Dream of suburbia has completely shattered.

And, like the best black comedy, you will find yourself laughing through the whole evening. This is a spectacular cast... and singling out any one particular performance is difficult because they work together so beautifully; however, Rebecca Robinson's work in Act Two is a study in conflict. I could see her momentary flashes of understanding just what was happening to her each time she briefly stepped out of the moment. Joey Hood has to be one of the most natural actors in Austin theatre. You are never aware of him acting. He always just inhabits the character. His work is, as always, mesmerizing.

DETROIT ends with a coda, of sorts. Tom Green as a neighbor who lived in the neighborhood many years before, reminisces fondly about the days of suburbia that are only a distant memory: summer dances where parents stayed up late without worries about the cost of a baby sitter. And while this goes on, we watch Ben and Mary take in exactly what has happened to them that has taken them to this moment of zero. Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.

Director Mark Pickell has done a wonderful job with this show and I was especially impressed by how he handled the many challenges of the second act. The set design by Ia Enstera is a marvel of design and function and is beautifully executed.

I highly recommend DETROIT. A great evening of theatre, stunningly realized.

DETROIT: by Lisa D'Amour

Running time: Approximately 1 hour 55 minutes with one intermission.

DETROIT, produced by Capital T Theatre, plays Hyde Park Theatre (511 W43rd St) now thru September 20. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm. Reserved Seating $20. Preferred Seating $30. Reservations

From This Author - Frank Benge

A Kansas native, Frank Benge has been involved in the Austin area theatre scene as a Director, Designer, Writer and Performer for the past 20 years. He holds a double BA in Theatre and English from... (read more about this author)