The price of a house these days, located in a metropolitan area – like the outskirts of Sydney or Melbourne – is quite frankly soul crushing. Now, we aren’t talking mansions with a breathtaking view of Vaucluse, and an Olympic size swimming pool. No, just a nice family home, close to work and schools – the home that every young Australian envisages buying. With such a sense of financial uncertainty and reservations about the future distressing our nation, ‘Detroit’, the latest production by Red Stitch Theatre Company, poignantly highlights many of our anxieties and fears.
Written by Lisa D’Amour, first premiering in Chicago in 2010, ‘Detroit’ is a story about Ben and Mary, a married couple who like to present themselves as the perfect pair living out the American dream, with a happy home life and no financial anxiety. As the play unfolds this idyllic façade quickly unravels and we see how close they are to the precipice.
The lights come up on Mary and Ben’s backyard. A wooden patio, with 4 lovely stools, and a table with a red and white striped umbrella in the centre. The exterior of the house is a crisp white, and the grass is green and lush. There is a fence that divides the stage in two halves. On the other side, a symmetrically similar house and garden is shown, however in a far less pristine condition. The decking is incomplete, there is no grass – just soil, and the paint on the house is faded. Thanks to Matthew Adey’s superb set design, immediately the audience realises that we are in suburbia, in the backyards of two vastly different couples.
Sharon and Kenny are a couple that just recently moved into the house next door, and Ben and Mary have invited them over for a Barbeque. Conversation between the couples ensue, as well as moments of sincere awkwardness (nailed by the cast), which hears the audience chuckling in their seats. We learn that Ben has just lost his job at the bank, but is creating his own website offering services as a financial consultant. Mary is concerned and anxious about this, but is doing her best to keep a brave face and hold it all together. She is a paralegal. When asked what they do, Sharon and Kenny are a little hesitant to respond. Kenny admits that he works at a warehouse and Sharon at a call centre. For a relaxed backyard barbeque it is all rather awkward, and no one knows what to talk about.
As Mary obsesses about the wart on bottom of her foot, Ben (Brett Cousins) stands at the back of the stage, grilling the steaks, often yelling out to see what he had missed. Sharon (played by Ngaire Dawn Fair) rants on and on about how neighbours don’t seem to socialise or communicate like they used to, and then suddenly breaks down crying about how happy she is to be at this Barbeque. It becomes clear that everyone has their issues. Sharon and Kenny (Paul Ashcroft) let slip that they met in rehab, and the house they are staying in belongs to Kenny’s Aunt. It doesn’t seem to add up and we are left wondering who these characters actually are. Despite this, an odd friendship is forged between the couples.
The transitions between the scenes are rather seamless, with projected video footage of suburban neighbourhoods panning over the white walls of the set. This coupled with some music distracts the audience somewhat to the actor’s onstage moving props and set. The visuals also add to the fractured idea of the American dream versus reality.
Mary is played by Sarah Sutherland, who faultlessly portrays a woman with so many neurosis and anxieties she struggles to suppress them all, and they all to frequently bubble to the surface. In a scene towards the middle of the play, Mary sneaks over to Sharon’s backyard to talk. She is drunk, and very strung up. Sutherland charms the audience with her comic timing but also her endearing moments of complete vulnerability. She heartbreakingly tells Sharon “he doesn’t like me, no one likes me”.
With no interval, the tension builds steadily as the play progresses, coming to a catastrophic yet slightly foreseen ending. The use of live fire onstage, coupled with the fast paced dialogue and loud music, builds the intensity and creates the unsettling feeling of life spiralling out of our control.
The actors are brilliant, and thoroughly captivate the audience for the entire 90 minutes. The direction by Tanya Dickson ensures fast paced and playful scenes, but also weighted moments that allow the audience to connect to the characters.
‘Detroit’ is a palpable show that mirrors our current society’s anxieties and uncertainties for the future. An exquisite production and definite must see! Playing at Red Stitch until September 26th.