by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
The aphorism “fences make good neighbors” was never truer than it is in Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit.” When Ben (Brett Sullivan Santry) and Mary (Alyssa Herron) invite their neighbors Kenny (John Feightner) and Sharon (Sara Fisher) over for a backyard barbecue, all hell breaks loose.
Ben and Mary are desperate for friends. He’s unemployed and she’s unsatisfied. Kenny and Sharon, however, aren’t just the kooky kids who move in next door. Sharon drops a bomb early in the play, she met Kenny in rehab. The couple bonded over substance abuse issues. Things get weirder from there. Soon, we learn that the new neighbors don’t have any furniture, just a mattress on the floor of the bedroom. It actually takes Mary a bit longer than it should to realize that Kenny and Sharon are squatting, but, by the time they figure it out, they’re deep into the bonds of friendship. Mary even agrees to go camping with Sharon.
When Mary and Sharon return early from their “attempted” camping trip, things go from wacky to wild and, eventually, to catastrophic.
Playwright D’Amour raises some excellent questions about love, compatibility and trust in “Detroit.”
There are four great performances in this play.
Sullivan Santry is excellent as the sad-sack Ben, quietly boiling with rage under his mild-mannered unemployed entrepreneur exterior. Herron is a perfect match for him. She’s stewing in her own juices as the sole bread-winner at a job she despises. Mary is a frustrated woman who knows more than willing to admit; deep down she knows the truth and it will unravel her.
Feightner and Fisher are so completely natural as the chaotic couple that it’s enthralling. Fisher is a ball of energy soaking up every moment she’s on stage.
Feightner, best known for bringing funny characters to life in improv (he’s on several Pittsburgh teams) and sketch comedy (most notably, Hustlebot), shows a far darker side. Its jarring to watch, like when Robin Williams played his first dramatic role in “World According to Garp” you want to say, “Oh, he can act, too,” as if comedy is easier.
P.S. it’s not.
Vince Ventura does a fine job directing this nearly tragic farce. Ventura is also the founding artistic director of the 12 Peers Theater who mounted this production. He should be commended for picking this absurd work that accentuates the talents of his wife, the aforementioned Fisher.
There are, however, two gripes about “Detroit.”
One, there are two obstructions (supporting beams) that make the play difficult to see from some angles (go early and get a good seat). It’s an unfortunate design of the venue and not the fault of scenic designer James Jamison who created a delightful set; backyard barbecue pastiche with all the trimmings, including an unwieldy, giant Steelers umbrella (that might be why Ben and Mary don’t have friends among all those Lions fans).
Two, there is a final scene that wraps everything up in a bow. It’s badly expositional, stiff and awkward, delivered by an actor, Larry Herrmann who appears in only the final few minutes.
These nagging items shouldn’t obstruct you from going to see “Detroit.” It’s a fun, fascinating dark comedy, brought to life by four talented actors.
“Detroit” runs May 14 through May 30 at the Maker Theater, 5950 Ellsworth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232.