Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
A finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and co-winner of the 2013 Obie Award for Best New American Play, Detroit looks at the relationship between two contemporary couples with adjoining backyards in a suburban housing development. When built in the 1960s, this cookie-cutter enclave was a homogeneous community of 9 to 5 fathers and stay-at-home mothers; nearly fifty years later, the once optimistic neighborhood (with streets named after different kinds of lighting) is a mix of dilapidation and gentrification, where neighbors remain largely unacquainted with one another.
Mid-career homeowners Ben and Mary have become a one-income household since Ben was abruptly downsized from his job as a loan officer. Ben plans to launch a home-based financial planning business but is bogged down with building his website, and Mary isn't coping well with the stress. Their newly arrived neighbors, Kenny and Sharon, met in drug rehab and work entry level jobs while trying to stay clean and sober and repair their damaged credit. Mary, desperate for neighbors she can bond with, leaps at the opportunity to befriend the younger couple, who appear committed to putting down roots and improving their dilapidated house, even though weeks after arrival they still have no furniture. Like Chekhov's characters, the couples in Detroit yearn for something bettereither a transformative future or a return to simpler times. They make a lot of plans, but things don't turn out quite as expected.
D'Amour's play deals with serious issues, such as substance abuse and the demoralizing effect of the recession. The script may not be profound, but it is smart and funny. Such a seriocomic work is best suited for a cast that can deliver nuanced, naturalistic performances. Unfortunately, for the most part, this cast does not have the necessary skills to do justice to this tale of dashed hopes. Director Chris Davies, who did fine work in last season's Farragut North, has paced the show well, but fails to coax the right combination of realism and theatricality from most of his cast. Self-conscious acting kills most of the laughs, and detracts from the scenes that could be poignant or revelatory. The only performer who seems completely at ease on the stage is Dave Elliot, whose Ben is believable as the average white-collar guy-next-door trying his best to cope with life's setbacks.
Doing double duty as set designer, Chris Davies uses a split set for the two backyards where the action takes place. While this saves time on scene changes, the white picket fence that divides the yards creates sightline problems for the audience. Davies and lighting designer Kendra Harris do a nice job creating the illusion of a conflagration in act two. The suburban soundscape created by sound designer Thom Chrastka is a nice touch, complete with the sounds of lawn mowers, birds, children's voices, and the distant whine of power tools as anonymous neighbors try to fix whatever is broken.
Detroit continues through October 1, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89103. For tickets ($15 general admission, $14 seniors and students) and other information, go to www.lvlt.org. A talkback follows the September 21 performance.