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Review: Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

The grass is always greener on the other side of the street, especially in the suburbs.

Although, in the case of “Detroit,” playing now through Sept. 20 at Hyde Park Theater and produced by Capital T Theatre, the grass on the other side of the fence has seen better days. In fact, it’s pretty haggard.

Nevertheless, Ben (Jason Phelps) and Mary (Rebecca Robinson), a bored suburban couple, are captivated by their new, rough-around-the-edges neighbors, Kenny (Joey Hood) and Sharon (Rebecca Perry). And the ensuing culture clash between the couples is both hilarious and distressing.

The Pulitzer finalist and Obie Award-winning play by Lisa D’Amour (a graduate of UT’s Michener Center for Writers) dramatizes the suburban malaise of the post-financial crisis era. Set in the suburbs of any major city, it captures a sense of futility and restlessness of middle-class people trapped by their own material goods and value system.

The henpecked Ben has lost his job but has high hopes of starting a business and building a website. Mary is cracking under the strain of her fear of financial insecurity. Without any friends, Mary’s manic insistence on feeding her guests fancy hors d’oeuvres (a far cry from the Cheetos and Saltines they’re used to) results in some incredibly awkward small talk and a poignant kind of laughter.

The cast is excellent, with great comic timing and teamwork. As obnoxious as the shrewish Mary ends up being, it’s still easy to find sympathy for her and each of the characters in this comedy with depressing overtones. Rebecca Pearcy is awkward and adorable, capturing well the mood swings and exuberance of a recovering addict.

Humorous as Sharon’s obliviousness to social conventions may be, “Detroit” does a nice job of treating addiction with respect – even as the bringers of chaos, the struggling couple is both sympathetic and tragic. The play doesn’t excuse them for their behavior, but nor does it make them into villainous caricatures.

As always, Capital T really sets the bar high when it comes to production value. Ia Enstera’s set is outstanding – an inventive piece of realism that is all the more impressive given the confines of the Hyde Park space. Or, perhaps, the triangular stage may be why the set is so impressive. The scene transitions aren’t rapid, but they’re certainly worth the wait.

Lowell Bartholomee’s sound design is great, too, and the overall quality of the show pulls you into the world of the characters and makes you forget yourself and your own troubles – one barometer for a night of excellent theatre.

“Detroit” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Sept. 20 at Hyde Park Theater. $20-$30. capitalt.org