Detroit never says it’s about Detroit. It’s about suburbs where communities are falling apart and the hope of the hard-work way to an easy happy-ever-after is disintegrating in a world where the only real trickle down is insecurity and crisis. Directed by Tanya Dickson, the Red Stitch production keeps its feet in America but feels like it’s made for the suburbs that many of us abandoned in our 20s and find ourselves heading back to in our 30s and 40s.
Writer Lisa D’Amour is from New Orleans, studied playwriting in Texas, and is also known for co-creating site-specific interdisciplinary works. Her play Detroit was first presented by Steppenwolf in Chicago in 2010 and on Off-Broadway in 2012. It was a Pulitzer finalist and won the Obie Award for Best New American play in 2013.
Ben (Brett Cousins) and Mary (Sarah Sutherland) had nice safe jobs, then Ben was laid off and is on his computer starting his own financial planning business. The house next door is a mirror image of theirs, except it’s falling apart. It was also empty until Kenny (Paul Ashcroft) and Sharon (Ngaire Dawn Fair) move in and come over for a barbecue and talk about how they met in rehab and are trying to buy the house by working in a warehouse and a call centre. In a place where neighbours no longer talk to each other, everyone welcomes a convenient friendship that doesn’t ask too many questions or notice just how broken their new friends are.
The tiny stage at Red Stitch isn’t made for sprawling backyards and at first Matt Adey’s set of two white dollhouse-esque houses and mini yards feels like it’s being squished into the space. The the first scene ends and the white becomes a screen for images moving down the unchanging-but-constantly-changing suburban streets. This makes the mini houses defy the space and brings us into the hugeness and unexpected beauty of the suburbs, which some of us drove from to enjoy to the inner-city theatre.
The writing’s bitterly funny and sprinkled with symbolism like a planters wart eating into the soul/sole of the community and touches of magical realism as the characters describe their dreams. The pitch-perfect performances revel in its comedy but are grounded in its gritty truth, and the direction finds an uncomfortable truth that’s as much part of Melbourne as it is Detroit.
I wonder if I’d have laughed so much if I didn’t live in Highett.