Detroit @ Red Stich Theatre

I saw the new Red Stitch play on the weekend, and have been mulling over my thoughts about it since.  The play is called “Detroit”, written by an American playwright, Lisa D’Amour. It was shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize, so certainly has the credentials yet I left the theatre less than satisfied, and I note views of critics both here and in the States have been polarised into the ecstatic and the lukewarm. I fall into the latter camp, but am not entirely sure why.

There are many threads to the storyline and perhaps that is the nub of my discontent as I felt the threads failed to knit into a cohesive strand.  The main thread seemed to be about the alienation of modern suburbia (a theme reinforced by the set design as we see images of suburban sprawl, ‘ticky tacky houses and they all look just the same’, projected onto the white background between each act). However, other threads included:

  • The personal upheaval created by the economic downturn (Ben has lost his job in a bank, so they are reliant on Mary’s wage as a paralegal whilst he tries to set up his own business and create a new identity for himself).
  • Middle class consumerism (Mary struggles to accept that her new neighbours own no furniture, and uses the opportunity to offload a hated coffee table so she can buy a new one but at the same time dreams of the simplicity of camping).
  • A thin line separates those who have ‘success’ and those who don’t (Mary displays a particular fondness for her wine, which makes her closer to her neighbour Sharon than she is willing to admit)
  • The embracing of opportunities to make a new start, to reinvent oneself and begin a new narrative (for some reason Sharon insists that Ben sounds English, an idea he later adopts with relish).

Brett Cousins shows the vulnerability of Ben and Sarah Sutherland is great at showing the barely suppressed rage at the situation Mary now finds herself in. Ngaire Dawn Fair and Paul Ashcroft play the met in rehab neighbours, Sharon and Kenny, who shift from amiable and trying hard to conform, to something more menacing and out of control.

The ending of this 90 minute play (no interval) comes abruptly and somewhat incongruously, an attempt to tie the strands together that didn’t work for me. However, time spent with this wonderful theatre company is always worth it, even if this was not one of their best.

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