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detroit: review

Claire Lovering, James O'Connell, Ed Wightman (c) Gez Xavier Mansfield

Claire Lovering, James O’Connell, Ed Wightman (c) Gez Xavier Mansfield

It’s awfully difficult to make me miss the place where I was born; Detroit Michigan, USA. Detroit is a place riddled with conflict. It’s a grey and uneasy place, and my memories of it are depressed and tangled, distraught and muddled. My family would always talk of the good times they had growing up there, and I could just never picture it. The city has been suffering huge financial, aesthetic, and economic hardship for as long as I can remember. It’s not a happy place.

So to see a theatre production that bears that name of this dark chasm of my childhood, I was very wary of what about my hometown would be uncovered. Would I laugh? Would I cry? Would my city be depicted properly, in all its guts and glory?

The short answer is yes.

Darlinghurst Theatre’s production Detroit did not disappoint. In fact, it soared. With each breathy, poetic line I was transported back to this wasteland and felt longing, disgust, sadness, and a realisation of what the place really means. The fiery and heart wrenching script is the Pulizter Prize finalist play written by Lisa D’Amour of New Orleans. The stage takes direction from Ross McGregor and is performed by a genuine and passionate cast.

We follow the lives of two couples as they battle the economic downturn that is modern-day Detroit. Mary (Lisa Chappell) and her husband Ben (Ed Wightman) invite their new neighbours Sharon (Claire Lovering) and Kenny (James O’Connell) to their house for dinner. It’s just days after Sharon and Kenny’s arrival in the what was once an almost abandoned home next door. The opening up of their home to the young couple is a bold move for Mary and Ben, who are struggling with alcoholism and financial hardship. But Sharon and Kenny embrace the welcoming arms of their new hosts and neighbours, with Sharon bursting into tears on their first night there and then revealing that she and Kenny have just come out of rehab.

We follow the lives of these two struggling couples as they collide, crash, mingle, and coalesce. The play becomes a total breaking down of all walls, of all possessions, of all sense of coherence. We learn that from nothing there can be anything, but sometimes you have to get to nothing before you can keep going.

The nostalgia for me came out through the themes expressed with great attention to detail and style. The couples gather around food; and it’s heavy, greasy American food at its best. Steaks, hot dogs, burgers, potatoes; all dosed up over and over. It’s excessive, but oh so American. And then there’s the breaking apart. Bodies on stage get trampled, broken open, bumped and bruised. The whole thing feels heavy, unstable, bloody, and sweaty. Something must give way, and boy does it give way.

Finished off with an eloquent and hugely nostalgic monologue delivered by Ronald Falk, Detroit comes full circle by showing us that oftentimes the circle doesn’t feel so full at all. Most of the time, the paths we tread are littered with doubt and hardship, and we walk them with bravery and naivety. Then we come to a fork in the road and a new option arises, a new adventure awaits. If we shy away purely because this adventure might break our foundations, then really, what will ever change?

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