San Diego, CA--- The one sobering moment in Lisa D’Amour’s quirky dark comedy on urban decay, “Detroit”, comes at the end when Kenny’s great uncle Frank (Robert Benedetti in a statesmanlike cameo role) is seen standing among the rubble of what was Mary and Ben’s house. He’s looking around and commenting that he and his wife were one of the first residents of this brand new neighborhood over 29 years ago. (Set designer D. Martin Bookwalter designed an ingenious revolving set easily accessing both backs of houses and back patios where all the action takes place.)
All the five homes on the Cul De Sac were the model homes and theirs was one of them. “Those were magic times. Kids running ragged everywhere, skinning their knee, catching beetles…but now look at his place. Half the houses are falling apart, the others so fancified they seem untouchable”.
Playwright Lisa D’Amour’s Obie winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist play “Detroit” is making a local premiere downtown on the Lyceum Stage of The San Diego Repertory Theater through March 16th. It’s a rather odd play and as directed by artistic director Sam Woodhouse, is painted with such broad strokes that it ricochets off the walls and throughout the Space.
Fast forward to suburbia U.S.A 2008 and Mary (Lisel Gorell-Getz) and her husband Ben (Steve Gunderson) are preparing for a cookout, of sorts, for their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny (Summer Spiro and Jeffrey Jones).
Mary and Ben didn’t even know anyone was living in the house across their patio. “The sheets stayed up for so long and it still looked empty” Surprise! It is. But that’s only the half of it.
If you believe Kenny and Sharon (and I caution to beware) the house belongs to some long lost relative of his (yup, the great aunt and uncle) and this kind gent is letting them stay there until they get back on their feet or until he sells the property. Ergo, no furniture.
We later learn that Ben just got laid off from his job as a loan officer at the local bank and Mary is a paralegal. At the moment, Ben is putting his unemployment check and severance pay good use by building his own website ‘helping people with their credit scores, that sort of thing’. Kenny works in a warehouse and Sharon works at a phone bank. So they say.
It doesn’t take very long for us to learn a bit more about theses two loquacious couples. Even though they are about as opposite from each other as any couples could be, the law of attraction that brings them together is their mutual quest in the pursuit of happiness and the American dream.
Kenny and Sharon met in rehab, are sober and trying to get their lives together, new city, new house, new friends. But to know them is to love them and to love them is know that their sobriety will be the farthest thing from reality as the play progresses, and that’s when things get completely out of hand.
Mary and Ben have a pretty boring life together. While they have lived in the ‘hood’ and know about their neighbors, they don’t seem know their neighbors nor, it seems, do they have any friends. After a few false starts in their ‘getting to know you conversation’ they are more than willing to accept Kenny and Sharon into their lives.
They party together, share information with each other and finally after a long evening together that ends in an exhausting tirade of sexual gyrating, dirty dancing, dancing on chairs to exchanging partners, that seemed to go on forever, their life as they once lived it, literally goes up in flames.
To say that watching this production was about as tiring as anything I’ve ever done in a sitting position would be an understatement. The high-energy tirades, angry outbursts and the endless chatter became a draining endurance test.
Each little vignette brought about another small revelation that, in many instances, had nothing to do with the previous. But the energy of the evening was so volatile, loud and meaningless that, for this reviewer, it was a big turnoff.
That said that same high energy, vodka on steroid induced performance of Summer Spiro’s Sharon, who carries the last few scenes to places yours truly would never want to visit, is top notch. She simply puts Mary and Ben on notice that “when you’re at zero, anything can happen”. And it does.
Jeffrey Jones as her counterpart Kenny is more subdued with a mischievous smirk that might frighten if he suddenly decided to leap out at one of the others, but he’s rather retro for one with so much pent up energy.
Both Goerll-Getz and Gunderson are great followers. Both have that wide-eyed surprise look every time Sharon goes off on a tangent. Gunderson is perfect as the smile a minute puppy dog hubby who has a really Big secret at the end and Gorell-Getz plays against all the odds as the sometimes puzzled and confused sometimes oddball personality.
I’m sure I missed the overall message the playwright was trying to get across. But for the last minute reprieve by Benedetti when he explained how things used to be in the old neighborhood some sense of order took form. I remember my young family moving into such a development (1963) where the different designed model houses were there for our pick and we chose the colors.
Yes, Dorothy, “The times they are a changing”.
Hey Ben I figured out the other day that all the streets around here are named for different kinds of light. We’re on “Sunshine Way” and then there’s “Ultraviolet Lane”, “Fluorescent Avenue”.
KENNY Also Rainbow Road.
BEN Yes, AND did you also notice “Feather Way” ... “Weightless Avenue”...
KENNY (Getting it) Oooh, right - Helium Street...
It didn’t get much better than that in the late 70’s.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 16th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $31.00-$47.00
Venue: Lyceum Space