A site-specific theater company takes on 'Detroit'

Theater with a View presents Lisa D'Amour's 'Detroit'

3 minute read
We don't need no water.... (Photo courtesy of Theater with a View)
We don't need no water.... (Photo courtesy of Theater with a View)

Theater with a View was launched in 2014 as an artistic home for the production of site-specific stagings of contemporary plays. Their newest production, Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, is similar to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Both plays present two married couples spending a social evening together. The characters go through the motions of conviviality until, fueled by alcohol, their inhibitions vanish and nastiness emerges.

Virginia Woolf’s marital breakdown is more cataclysmic, while Detroit deals with more mundane problems, and doesn’t dig as deeply. Detroit’s distinction lies in the fact that all four individuals — and even an unseen neighborhood jogger — are coping with anger in the midst of what seems to be tranquil suburban life.

Decay on the edges

Playwright Lisa D’Amour specified the setting as a suburb on the edge of any city, and this production is presented appropriately in the backyard of a comfortable house on the edge of a wooded area in Pottstown, 45 minutes from Philadelphia. The script’s action unfolds on a patio and in the adjacent woods and, sure enough, this house matches the description. The audience sits on plastic chairs a few feet from the patio. The dialogue is accompanied by the chirping of real birds.

The play’s title seems apt because Detroit was the American city that fell farthest, from prosperity to ruin as its residents fled to the suburbs. D’Amour has written a poignant requiem for those suburbs, which once held such promise.

Mary and Ben (Nina Covalesky and Alan Dronek) are an outwardly normal couple. She works as a paralegal while Ben was laid off from his job as a loan officer at a bank. He now spends all his time alone at home, trying to set up a website. This annoys Mary tremendously. She drinks too much and complains, “He gets to be home all day and I don’t get home 'til 6:45 because of the fucking traffic.”

Sharon and Kenny (Jessica Myhr and Daniel Hilt) are the slightly younger couple next door who met in a drug rehab program. She works at a call center and he at a warehouse. Mary is appalled to see that Sharon and Kenny have no furniture, and she drags out a mahogany coffee table, which she never liked, as a gift.

The Whole Foods divide

The differences between the two couples are marked in what they serve. Mary prepares dates wrapped in bacon drizzled with chili oil, and brags that she drove “all the way to Whole Foods” to buy heirloom tomatoes, while the lower-class couple serves Cheetos and bean dip. But the life of the more pretentious pair is shaky: the umbrella above their patio table is collapsing, their back door sticks, and the cement in their stone wall is crumbling.

After reading the script and watching the New York production, this story seemed to be about four depressed people. In this version, a new element, the effervescence of Myhr as Shannon, gave the play more impact.

On the surface Sharon seems to be a loser; she’s a druggie who refers to herself as white trash. Yet Myhr displays a beaming smile and a sunny attitude which invites the audience to empathize, rather than judge. The acting of the entire cast was excellent, but Myhr raises the enterprise to a higher level.

Seth Reich’s direction fluidly navigates the unusual setting while providing close-up exposure of the characters.

Theater With a View relies on a burgeoning trend among theater companies. There are no specific ticket prices; rather, attendees are asked to pay what they wish ($25 is suggested). When checking in at a front desk, you can put your offering on a credit card, and you can add a contribution when you purchase water or snacks. Finally, the company follows up with emails afterwards to see how much you enjoyed the play and this allows another opportunity for giving.

It surely will be interesting to see how this experiment and variations on it work out.

What, When, Where

Detroit. By Lisa D’Amour, Seth Reich directed. Through September 3, 2016 at Sycamore Hill, 481 Ebelhare Road, Pottstown. (800) 836-3893 or theaterwithaview.com.

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