Left – Ngaire Dawn Fair. Cover – Sarah Sutherland & Ngaire Dawn Fair. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson
Detroit, written by Lisa D’Amour, presents itself as a scathing deconstruction of the American Dream and the extent to which we allow consumerism and class divides to sculpt our lives. While the themes are in theory strong and immediately relatable, the script provides neither a clear argument nor enough ambivalence to really make you walk away and think about what you just saw. Luckily a well-placed plot, sparkling dialogue and fantastic performances make thematic incoherence seem almost unimportant.
Detroit follows two couples who have recently become neighbours; the older and reasonably well-off Mary and Ben, and broke, recovering drug addicts Sharon and Kenny. The four characters are introduced and established over early scenes that derive humour from their mismatched attitudes and backgrounds, but anxiety over unemployment and drinking problems soon reveal that the four have more in common than might immediately be obvious. Initial trepidation (particularly on the part of Mary) is quickly overcome but these tentative friendships are undercut by a lingering tension that soon turns their connection into something more toxic and dangerous.
Detroit is packed full of laugh-out-loud funny moments and the characters are almost immediately likable, but flashes of anger and unstable behaviour ensure that no matter how hilarious things get there is always a slightly discomfiting undertone. All four actors manage these tonal shifts brilliantly, especially with some characters who can veer from threatening to tragic to endearing within the space of minutes.
Ngaire Dawn Fair and Paul Ashcroft keep Sharon and Kenny beautifully ambiguous; both at times seem like charming free spirits but the undercurrent of menace is never far away and their constantly contradictory anecdotes suggest early on that their claims of sobriety and wanting to change may not be as admirable as they at first seem. Meanwhile Sarah Sutherland and Brett Cousins quickly reveal the cracks in the ‘respectable’ veneer of their characters’ middle class lives; Sutherland is particular gives a standout performance, making Mary by turns hysterical and pitiable. But despite some despicable behaviour especially toward the end, none of the characters ever come across as truly unsympathetic, and that is probably the biggest strength of the play, a strength entirely down to the first-rate cast.
Detroit remains engaging and entertaining throughout, but it stumbles in a strange and somewhat jarring final scene that attempts to underline several themes that never really felt like they were a strong part of the play. Detroit seems to be suggesting in its final moments that we are weighed down by our possessions, preconceptions of other people and what we think our lives are meant to be, but the route it travels to arrive at that point is extreme and unrealistic. Without giving away the ending, D’Amour’s denouement relies on two characters seemingly accepting some horrifying actions perpetrated against them as ‘for the best’. Perhaps this would have worked had the play done more to set it up, but the ending seemed at odds with what had gone before, and the final conclusions of the characters didn’t gel with the people they were established as. This inconsistency didn’t help clarify an ending that appeared to be trying to say several things at once, none of which really felt of a piece with the show we had just seen. It made for a curiously hollow experience; Detroit is a first rate production with a brilliant cast, but there is very little to consider beneath the thoroughly entertaining veneer.
Red Stitch presents
by Lisa D’Amour
Directed by Tanya Dickson
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: 28 Aug – 26 Sep 2015
Tickets: $15.00 – $45.00
Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 | www.redstitch.net