Darlinghurst Theatre Co/ Eternity Playhouse
22 July – 16 August
Playwright – Lisa D’Amour
Director – Ross McGregor
Cast – Lisa Chappell, Ronald Falk, Claire Lovering, James O’Connell, Ed Wightman
Synopsis – Ben and Mary live in a decaying suburb hard hit by economic downturn. He’s lost his job and she’s discovered alcohol. They fire up the barbecue to welcome the arrival of new neighbours; a couple broke and fresh out of rehab. As the night wears on confessions are shared, inhibitions are shed and Bacchanalia ensues.
Review – In director Ross McGregor’s note in the programme he brings up several points of interest for himself on why he loves this play and the questions it raises. He also goes on to mention the asking of textural questions during rehearsal and the finding of the right answers within the play. I left this production with a lot of questions myself and they weren’t the kind you wish your audience to leave with. My questions were, ‘What was that about?’ ‘Why is it on this stage?’ and ‘Why did director and theatre company see the relevance of this story to their audience?’ Detroit is so clearly a story for an AMERICAN audience whose understanding of the history and plight for this city and their recession hardships is an integral part of, their, personal national pain and struggles, with Detroit itself having a long history of personal disintegration. Playwright Lias D’Amour has written a comedy sitcom style play full of sentimentality that is a heart to heart story about a part of her “American family”. This play is not universal and is limited by its context and its content which keeps it relevant only within its borders. I can not see why Darlinghurst Theatre company chose this production. Out of the wealth of material that is available I just do not see its merit for an Australian audience or stage.
I have made it customary to do my best to find the plays I review and read them before seeing them, I feel this gives me a stronger understanding of how the play is written in its format, rhythm on the page and the playwrights intentions within the text both in dialogue and stage directions. It also allows me to best give, I feel, a more solid and accurate review on a directors interpretation of the work. Reading what I was able to find online, I got a good sense of what kind of play this was and my stomach sunk slightly. Darlinghurst Theatre Company seem to heavily favour American work, which is fine if that is their true mandate, but the negatives of choosing vastly American literature is the risk of choosing work that falls completely flat on an Australian stage. With actors who more than often (especially when the work is sitcom comedy) develop character work that is way over the top, hammy, obnoxious and linear. We all know American’s are loud personalities but the depth of personhood must not be sacrificed by being grossly over the top in dramatisation, there must be room for light and shade, the subtle notions live in all people. In this case with the characters of Detroit, I just did not get any true sense of who these characters REALLY were…which made me question what the story was essentially about, and ending with me wondering why I should care. There seemed to be a lack of exploration of what is NOT being said, which was troublesome and probably was the cause of clunky, awkward line delivery.
Act one provided plenty of laughs with one liners and physical banter that was impossible not to giggle at. The tempo of the comedy I observed started a little nervously and thought perhaps it would become more comfortable as the play progressed. Though the audience had plenty of moments where they indulged in the moment, the tempo overall felt off, with pauses that went on for too long, and actors who weren’t really sure how to deliver certain parts of dialogue. The text feeling rather racket balled from character to character and actor having a swing at it as hard and as fast as they could. Whatever questions were raised in rehearsals I’m not sure if they were really answered with full conviction; they didn’t translate well on stage at all, it was all rather awkward and unclear. Not being a fan of the play itself as it is on paper, it was a struggle to embrace it in its performance.
Act two of the production was flatter than the first with a long sentimentally detailed monologue delivered by Ronald Falk, which bored the audience and too appeared to bore the other actors listening on stage. There was nothing in Act one that set us up as an audience to give a care about what this character had to say, especially considering it’s the first time we knew this character to even exist, his stage time being a whole 15 minutes. A difficult task to do for any actor, to win over an audience with a monologue that paired as an introduction to himself that was full of his characters personal sentiments, memories and relations to other characters and to the city in question, Detroit. In my opinion this is a huge fault in the script which highlights poor use of exposition by D’Amour. The actions of both set of couples came across murky, dramatic tension was weakly milked which gave no room for the audience to grow sympathy for any of the characters. Most of all this play lacked any suspense that sparked the right questions for an audience or generated any curiosity or mystery within the comedy or the dramatic climaxes of the play.
Though all actors involved gave rather passionate performances, and the set by designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller was versatile and fulfilled the scripts requirements. This play lacked solid conviction, and understanding for the audience. You just really really needed to KNOW the context as an audience member to grasp its purpose for being…And though McGregor attempted to do this with a radio style sound scape as an interlude (as you will) it wasn’t enough to get the audience to a starting point of sensing the stakes or state of this place called ‘Detroit’ and the people who inhabit it. McGregor would have done best to take the advantage the playwright gives by placing this story in a town that an Australian audience, and his actors would have been able to grab hold of with much more conviction and understanding. Even better, chosen a different play entirely.
Photo credit: Helen White