Suburbia: the domain of the upwardly mobile middle-class; living in identikit housing, striving desperately to escape the monotony. In Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit the neat decking is destroyed as stasis meets chaos.
The play, which premiered in America in November 2010, has been brought to the National in conjunction with Chicago’s prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It challenges the contemporary reality of being neighbourly. Once people used to share sugar and bake for each other, but now we shy away, scared of what we may find on the other side of the fence.
Ben and Mary are the suburban dwellers; he is only a few weeks away from financial disaster, but doesn’t appear to care, while she feels strangled by her stagnant life. Both need change. The new couple next door offer them an escape, but unfortunately it seems the only route out for Ben and Mary is to join their drug-ravaged neighbours at rock bottom. The couples are desperate for companionship, and each character believes that their new acquaintance will provide saviour for them.
Austin Pendleton’s direction is dynamic and resourceful, transforming the Cottesloe space so that the audience become voyeurs looking over the picket fence.
Will Adamsdale is superb as Kenny, finding astonishing range in a character who could so easily be defined by the stoner stereotype of sluggishness. Clare Dunne as Kenny’s partner Sharon, and Justine Mitchell as Mary, deliver a number of startling monologues; raw and visceral, letting their fears take control. The performances have a tendency to pitch too high, too early, but overall the cast bring potency and intensity to the piece.
The party sequence is a fascinating crescendo as the two couples whip each other up into a frenzy. We are lulled into the mania; transfixed and beguiled by the cathartic nightmare that is enveloping the lives of both couples. The four look like a cult, chanting and stomping across stage, laying the foundations for a new life to be explored.
The text itself, a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a sumptuous concoction. Funny, frenzied and fearsome – Detroit is a gripping tale about breaking the mould.
Detroit runs at the National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX until 14 May. Tickets are selling well so book soon to avoid disappointment.