Detroit: Visit to the Motor City Falls Short—Theatre

“Detroit,” the first play of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company season, is terrifically acted and has a great set, but ultimately its story falls short.Detroit1

Written by Lisa D’Amour and directed by John Vreeke, “Detroit” is about two couples who live next door to one another in a close-in suburb of Detroit. Ben and Mary have lived in the neighborhood for a while and Sharon and Kenny have just moved in. Ben is recently unemployed and is starting an online business from home, while Mary works full-time. It’s not clear what Sharon and Kenny do, but Kenny has worked in construction.

As the play begins, the couples are getting together for a barbecue. It’s very much like a first date with someone you don’t know very well. Conversation comes in fits and starts…too much laughter at a joke…that kind of thing. But awkwardly a friendship develops between the couples. More frequent get-togethers occur and gradually secrets about one another are revealed as the gatherings become more boisterous. But how much do the new friends really know about one another?

As noted earlier, “Detroit” boasts phenomenal acting. Emily K. Townley and Tim Getman as Ben and Mary are fabulous. Townley, a Woolly regular, is never bad, and she shines as the unsure, volatile older neighbor. Getman’s role is more understated, but he excels at letting us know there’s more emotion beneath his calm exterior. Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey and Danny Gavigan are terrific as the slightly mysterious, unpredictable younger couple. Their scenes with their respective same-sex neighbors are especially good.

Woolly has configured the stage so that you are looking at the back of the two homes including backyards. Additionally, multi-media gives you the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. The audience is on both sides of the stage (front and back). It does make you feel like you are sitting in on the conversations taking place—the only trouble is that often one of the speaking actors has his/her back to you.

So what is the problem with the play? Despite all it has going for it, “Detroit” feels very static and at some point I just stopped caring. The play’s notes say that “America’s middle class is disappearing, and these two couples begin the play suspended over the abyss.” I didn’t make that connection and the story…the words…they just didn’t engage me.

That said, time spent with the Woolly Company is never a total miss. In “Detroit’s” case, the acting makes up for a lot.

Runs through October 6.

2 nuggets out of 4

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