We began last month with a workshop reading of Our Suburb at The Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival, as we contemplated Darrah Cloud’s portrait of Skokie, Illinois—a suburb butting up against the city of Chicago—during the 1970s. How interesting it was then for us a group to attend Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of Detroit last Thursday night. The first irony being that the play’s not really about the city of Detroit at all, but a suburb of that fading, now-legally bankrupt metropolis.
Lisa D’Amour’s play is a revelation, despite it’s two conventional-seeming suburban home facades flanking both sides of the playing area; there’s very little that’s conventional about this play’s shrewd dramaturgy. The pace and theatrical intensity keeps intensifying as the revelations of character inform an increasingly frenzied revving up of energy and desperation throughout the evening. We’re gonna hear from our student subscribers about their first-ever visit to Woolly, and the insights they took away from this production, and the moving post-show discussion that took place between Woolly “Connectivity” Director, Jocelyn Price, cast member Michael Willis (who, ironically, will be playing the butcher, Mr. Edelman, in Our Suburb) and the regional director of the Veterans Writing Project. That discussion, with insightful comments from veterans and wives in military families was a revelation as well. (Who knew that Mike Willis was a vet and Navy brat and that he lived on 14 different bases the first 15 years of his life?). How important a service Woolly was providing by creating a space where vets could share thoughts with civilians–students, even–and reflect on the similarities between life on an army base and the lives of the two families we were seeing unfold on stage.
Here to get us started with reflections on Detroit is University of Michigan student, Joseph Chatham:
For me, “Detroit” was an exhilarating theatre-going experience. I enjoyed almost every aspect of it, from the pain and anger and defiance that Sharon and Kenny seemed to embody, to the nostalgia and the desire to begin again far away, to start over somewhere new, figuratively at least if not literally, that Ben and Mary conveyed, to the tired knowing that Frank seemed to emanate. The entire play, the dialogue, the scene transitions, everything, felt so organic that I almost felt as though I was there, as though I was observing a scene from my backyard as I watched two sets of my neighbors spin out, careening towards that great and terrible abyss of uncertainty and freedom that middle class life frequently seems to impel us to strive for. Even when some of the dialogue felt contrived, it still felt that it was meant to be that way, like it was knowingly mimicking the way that people often stumble verbally about, and thus I did not see it as a deficiency of the script, but rather as one of its triumphs, and felt as though it was relaying the complexity and foolishness that we as people also often relay.
The play itself also seemed to carry with it an overpowering feeling of nostalgia that I felt undergirded the entire production. From the very beginning, the idea that people do not relate to each other anymore, and even more significantly that they often seem to have no desire to do so anymore, struck me as an interesting and important one. I felt that it was an intriguing commentary on the way that our urbanized society has produced not more emotionally connected people, but rather more consciously distant persons, as though the fact that because everyone is now so physically close together they feel as though they have to strive to preserve some personal space for themselves, even if that does lead to them being alienated from those physically closest to them, their neighbors. In short, I greatly enjoyed “Detroit”, both because of the way that the characters were constructed and the emotions that they embodied, and because of the overall aura that the play seemed to give off, and feel that it continued to enhance my appreciation and understanding of theatre in D.C.
Check out the rest of student subscriber responses below in the comments section…