By Lisa D’Amour
Directed by Austin Pendleton
At Steppenwolf Theatre
Detroit is a perplexing new play with absurdist tendencies peopled by extremely dysfunctional anxiety-ridden folks.
Playwright Lisa D’Amor’s commissioned new work, Detroit, is a most perplexing theatre experience. Kevin Depinet’s set consists of two “first-ring” suburban houses – small 1960’s structures built close to major cities (like Detroit). Today, theses homes are aging dilapidated structures hiding the American Optimism they once expressed.
We meet Mary (Laurie Metcalf) and Ben (Ian Barford) – a most dysfunctional couple hiding in their aging home as their fear of change in a world that seems to be moving too fast for them engulfs them. Ben is a out-of-work bank loan officer trying to learn html to start a financial services website business. Mary is a wound-too-tight drunkard spouse bewildered by life and Ben. She is a neurotic ready to have her fears explode into fists of rage. This couple takes the general anxiety millions of middle class couples are experiencing to a new level of fear and desperation.
They befriend a couple who has recently occupied the dilapidated home next door. A barbecue is arranged with Sharon (Kate Arrington) and Kenny (Kevin Anderson). These two are recovering addicts. Sharon is filled with free associate rambling monologues depicting her past. A pattern emerges in this play as each character has one or more rambling monologues as each tries to communicate their past and their fears. The barbecue is filled with strong uneasy tension that gradually escalates into a series of out-of-control events that gives new meaning to dysfunctional behavior.
Filled with absurdist behavior flavored with much pop/psycho-babble, Detroit demonstrates how two couples go over the top culminating in a gritty, raw and totally tasteless scene that finds both couples braking down into total chaos. The scene ends up with a furniture burning that eventually ends up with Ben and Mary’s house being engulfed.
This upsetting play finds tedious black comedic elements blended with the underlying tension whose bases is never fully explained. The long-winded monologues grew tiresome by the third one. Also, the early fits of extreme rage mounted by Laurie Metcalf’s Mary came out of nowhere. It seems that each of these wacky characters have a phobia concerning the unknown. All four are desperate to reveal their true selves to others. The manic, over-the-top performances, especially by Laurie Metcalf and Kate Arrington were hard to take. The sheer crudeness that found Metcalf vomiting on the stage and her penchant to sit with her legs apart while wearing a dress so that her panties showed was tasteless. This off-beat show had a mixed reaction from the audience – about a third laughed throughout and most, like me, sat with our mouths open wondering why Steppenwolf Theatre would mount such a disgusting play?
If you enjoy gritty, off-beat absurdist dysfunctional work filled with intensely emotional outbursts and crude humor, than you’ll like Detroit. I found it too extreme and pointless.
At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, www.steppenwolftheatre.org, 312-335-1650, tickets $20 – $73, Tuesdays thru Sundays at 7:30 pm, Saturday & Sunday matinees at 3 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm – Oct 20, 27 and Nov 3, running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission,through November 7, 2010