Neighbourly dangers unleashed
By Narelle Wood
I’ll be honest, I knew very little about Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit going in. I expected something gritty in keeping with my impressions of the city, and my previous experiences of Red Stitch productions had always been positive. In both cases, Detroit didn’t disappoint.
The play is set in the backyards of two adjoining houses in what at one stage promised to be a housing estate with neighbours friendly enough to borrow cups of sugar from one another. When Kenny and Sharon move next-door, Mary and Ben take the opportunity to get to know their neighbours, a friendship is forged and things slowly spiral out of control. There is impending doom from the beginning; Mary and Ben are struggling with the economic downturn, Kenny and Sharon are not long out of rehab, and all four are looking for a way through their lives.
The tragedy in Detroit comes from Lisa D’Amour’s characters, rather than a set of tragic events. Mary (Sarah Sutherland), Ben (Brett Cousins), Kenny (Paul Ashcroft) and Sharon (Ngaire Dawn Fair) are complex in both the characters themselves and the relationships they forge with each other. But the complexities are restrained; it is a slow reveal of the different characters’ traits that leads to the tragic ends.. Upon entering the theatre the list of warnings about the content is extensive, but they are not overtly portrayed. Under Tanya Dickson’s direction, the cast create nuanced performances, striking a balance between overt friendly neighbours and the dark secrets the characters are hiding.
The small space of Red Stitch Actors Theatre doesn’t afford much opportunity for set changes, so the transitions between scenes are managed through multi-media projections of the suburbs and contrasting techno night-club music. The combination is jarring and reinforces the unlikeliness of the friendship between the two couples. The lighting and projections are at times eerie, especially when all four characters finally let go of their inhibitions.
Detroit is intriguing, disturbing and slightly nostalgic (thanks to Chris Wallace’s brief appearance to reminisce about the neighbourhoods of yesteryear). If you are looking to stretch your theatre repertoire this would be a good introduction to the darker side of entertainment; gritty, without the hyperbole.
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East
Season: Until 26th September, 8pm, 6.30pm Sundays, 3pm Saturday matiness
Tickets: Full $45| Conc $37