David Schwimmer and Amy Ryan are beset by troubling neighbors in a dark new comedy
BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A dark and unsettling new comedy by Lisa D’Amour, “Detroit” looks at a modern-day suburban couple pinched by the lousy economy – they’re broke but somehow scrabbling along just like so many of us – whose fragile existence is undermined by their new neighbors.
Opening on Tuesday at Playwrights Horizons, this intimate yet far-reaching play begins on a backyard patio where 30-somethings Ben (David Schwimmer) and Mary (Amy Ryan) invite over for a cookout a slightly younger couple, Kenny (Darren Pettie) and Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic), who just moved next door.
Conversation reveals that Kenny and Sharon met in rehab and are struggling to reboot their lives while Ben, recently laid off from his banking job, hopes to start a consulting firm. The next scene, a few nights later, finds Mary drunkenly confessing to Sharon her anxiety over her marriage and Kenny’s behavior.
As the couples become more intimate over the next six weeks or so, it grows apparent that everybody is in dire straits. The tightening squeeze of money, jobs, desires, addictions and similar troubles eventually sparks them to a surprisingly nihilistic climax, followed by a morning-after conclusion when an elderly neighbor (John Cullum) muses about life on their block back in the 1960s.
The social commentary regarding American decline that pervades the story is fairly obvious but scores its bleak points. And have I mentioned that this is a comedy? Even as these people slide downhill, the playwright usually manages to be entertaining about their woes through lively conversation and quirky character details.
Running a quick 100 minutes, the play benefits from capable acting and the understated excellence of the production directed by Anne Kauffman. Schwimmer emanates an everyman quality that lends extra sympathy to his befuddled Ben while Pettie develops a dangerous edge as Kenny. Ryan’s initially sharp Mary melts down convincingly. Sokolovic’s loopy Sharon is endearing. Cullum does salt-of-the-earth individuals better than anybody. Using a turntable, designer Louisa Thompson provides several different suburban exteriors with ease. The sound design, by Matt Tierney, offers the significant sounds of summer lawns.
If “Detroit” is not as deeply insightful as D’Amour intends it to be, the comedy at least is a thoughtful consideration of how easily people can be influenced by others for better or in this case, worse.
“Detroit” continues through Oct. 7 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.