Lisa D’Amour calls her 2010 play, Detroit. But she herself has acknowledged that the play is set “in a suburb of what could be any middle American city.”
That is, any middle American city beset with severe financial woes, unemployment, abandoned housing and increasingly desperate members of what was once middle America’s middle class.
That’s the backdrop for this Pulitzer Prize finalist, a play that’s been staged from Chicago to New York to London. Now Fells Point Corner Theatre has produced the play’s well-acted, well-directed Baltimore premiere.
The action focuses on two couples. Ben is a recently laid-off banker, and his wife, Mary, is a paralegal. Their new next-door neighbors are Kenny, who works in a warehouse, and Sharon, who works at a call center.
When the play begins, Ben and Mary have invited these new neighbors over for a cookout, a gesture of such warmth, it moves Sharon to tears.
With her midriff bare and dressed in short shorts and boots, Rachel Roth plays Sharon as a motormouth; her words are as effusive as her clothing is skimpy. Roth delivers these words with a slight Southern twang and the raw immediacy of a young woman who lives entirely in the moment.
Under the direction of Michael Byrne Zemarel, Roth’s performance is a standout in a line-up of carefully observed performances.
We learn in the opening scene that Sharon and Kenny are fresh out of rehab. And as Kenny, David Shoemaker speaks with the slow drawl of someone who hasn’t yet gotten the pharmaceuticals out of his system.
The couple claims to have met in rehab. But that’s the first of several things about Kenny and Sharon that don’t quite ring true.
Beth Weber plays Mary as initially the most reasonable of the foursome. But as her suspicions build, she becomes more and more hysterical – at times to excess, even in this context. In comparison, Gregory Jericho, as her husband, Ben, comes across detached – a Milquetoast.
The two couples, one seemingly conventional and the other, way out on the edge, wouldn’t appear to have much in common. But a strange symbiotic friendship develops between them – a friendship that accelerates as their circumstances deteriorate.
Much of Lisa D’Amour’s career has been in experimental theater, but “Detroit” also owes a debt to such established playwrights as Harold Pinter and Edward Albee. Structurally, however, “Detroit” relies a little too heavily on monologues, and the sudden appearance of a new character in the final scene is more expository than organic.
The shifting line between dreams and reality is a recurring theme in Detroit. But at Fells Point Corner, the suburban houses where the play takes place are impressively solid structures, designed and built by Bush Greenbeck on a revolving set.
Fells Point Corner Theatre is housed in a former fire station, and it’s calling its new season, “Fire in the House.” That phrase has added meaning in “Detroit” -- a play that sheds heat and light on the fears underlying the safety and security of suburban life. Detroit continues at Fells Point Corner Theatre through October 3