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'Detroit' at Woolly Mammoth

It has come as a shock to Americans that a younger generation could do worse than its forebears, but the middle class may not be able to make the same assumptions anymore. It is the subject on a lot of minds these days, from economist Tyler Cowen to Tom Perrotta in a new collection of short stories. A powerful drama on this theme is Detroit, the new play by Lisa D'Amour, premiered in 2010, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 (read an excerpt). A new production has opened at Woolly Mammoth, seen on Friday night.

Detroit is not set in Detroit, according to the playwright, but that troubled city's name is the emblem of the sort of decline that its nameless inner suburb is meant to evoke. It concerns two couples who find themselves unlikely neighbors in just such a decaying subdivision somewhere in middle America. One husband and wife are older and seem more the sort one expects to meet in these surroundings, and they are somewhat surprised to find that another couple, younger and trying to make a new start, have moved in next to them. Although the outcomes are at times, without giving anything away, perhaps a little melodramatic, the action and dialogue reveal the cracks in society.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, The dark ’burbs of Woolly Mammoth’s ‘Detroit’ (Washington Post, September 17)

Charles Isherwood, Desperately Trying to Stay Stuck in the Middle (New York Times, September 8, 2012)

---, The Grass Is Really No Greener Next Door (New York Times, October 22, 2010)
In the roles of the older couple, new WMTC member Tim Getman was gawky and the right measure of slight perviness as Ben, matched by the nervous tension of Emily K. Townley as his wife, Mary. Gabriela Fernández-Coffey made for a strung-out, anxious Sharon, just as unpredictable as the thick-headed, unshaven Kenny of Danny Gavigan. All are well directed by John Vreeke, with action that unfolds without lulls and seems natural and conversational, getting at the humor and pathos of D'Amour's text. The set, designed by Tom Kamm, consists of the grass lawn and stone patio of the neighboring houses, which rise up on either side of the stage, an arrangement that required the movement of the seating in the theater. Videos, made to look and sound like 60s-style home movies (designed by Erik Pearson), are projected on the fronts of the houses, evoking the neighborhood's simpler days.

This production continues through October 6, at Woolly Mammoth. The use of some smoke effects, loud noises, and flashing lights may irritate some viewers.

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