By Kyle Osborne
If good fences make good neighbors, then the distinct absence of a fence between the two suburban houses in Lisa D'Amour’s Detroit foreshadows darker things than the superficiality of suburban life usually yields. The great joy of this pacey one-act play is watching that very façade peel away like old vinyl siding.
We start with Ben (Tim Getman) and Mary (Emily K. Townley) on their back patio getting the grill ready. This ‘All-American’ couple will be hosting their new neighbors in just a few minutes—new neighbors whose back patio faces them. A shared strip of green, save for a small stone wall that one can easily step over, is all that separates the two houses, which look identical on the outside, but each carries its own secrets inside the walls.
The cook-out guests are Kenny (Danny Gavigan) and Sharon (Gabriela Fernàndez-Coffey) who seem friendly enough, but we immediately sense something “off” about them—they’re rougher around the edges than one expects for the burbs. Sharon talks almost incessantly, while Kenny plays things closer to the vest. Are these two up to something, or are we pre-judging based on their appearance?
What we know is that Ben and Mary are charmed—seduced, perhaps, by the vibe of something more “dangerous’ than their own hum-drum lives. There are so many ‘reveals’, both big and small, that one hesitates to go further into the narrative. Suffice to say that Detroit is very funny. And dark. But mostly very, very funny.
The cast is a fabulous foursome (actor Michael Willis provides a brief coda) with Tim Getman getting laughs early on with his delivery alone. Getman’s comedic skills run deep, but he’s also more than capable of showing a glimpse of the underlying sad sack with a streak of bad luck. Townley, who was absolutely heartbreaking in Studio Theatre’s ‘Skin Tight’ plays Mary as longing yet somehow not devoid of hope—Townley’s ‘drunk character’ technique is perfect, avoiding the pitfall of ‘too much’ that has taken down so many actors.
As the no-furniture-owning Kenny and Sharon, Danny Gavigan and Gabriela Fernàndez-Coffey already feel like a real couple from the moment we see them. There’s some subtle body language between the two that keeps us curious. Each of the four characters will have a moment in the sun, usually with laugh-out-loud results.
Woolly Mammoth’s main house has been re-configured for this production so that audiences are sitting on either side of the stage—like a football game with the two houses in the End Zone position. It’s an effective lay-out that allows a good view of the action from virtually any seat. The production and lighting design are top notch.
Forgive me if I don’t delve into how the play and its characters are supposed to represent the lamentable passing of the ‘good neighborhood’ and its attendant causes, and how things have changed since the days of uninvited, but perfectly welcome knocks on the door. What people love are good stories about interesting people, and this play has an abundance of emotions, revealed secrets and big laughs. That was more than enough for me. Although it did make me wistful about the neighborhood my grandparents lived in—a place where hard-working blue collar types could grab a few shingles of the American Dream. That place only exists in works of fiction these days—but not this one.
'Detroit' Runs Through October 6th. More info and tickets at: http://www.woollymammoth.net/
More Theatre and Movie Reviews at: http://www.EntertainmentOrDie.com