Thursday, September 20, 2012

Theater Review: Detroit

Who is Our Neighbor?
By Lauren Yarger
A young woman excitedly thanks her new neighbor for extending a backyard barbecue invitation to her and her husband.

"This is is awesome. It is so awesome. I mean who invites their neighbors over for dinner anymore?" she gushes.

". . .We don’t have any friends," her host responds absentmindedly.

With that brilliant exchange of dialogue, playwright Lisa D'Amour brings into focus the crux of her new play, Detroit, which is getting a New York run Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. The natural-sounding exchange with its nuanced probe into relationships in modern culture also is one reason why this play, which received its world premiere at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company (in a different production), was a finalist for last year's Pulitzer Prize for drama.

It's rich in character, dialogue and thought-provoking commentary on the society in which we live. Anne Kauffmann directs powerhouse performances from Darren Pettie, Amy Ryan (TV's "The Office," "The Wire,"),  David Schwimmer ("Friends"), Sarah Sokolovic (The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World at Playwrights) and Tony-Award winner John Cullum.

Mary (Ryan), a needy and uptight customer service operator is not shy about voicing her disapproval of laid-off banker husband Ben (Schwimmer) and his plans to run a financial counseling business from home. Laid back Ben doesn't appear concerned about or aware of too much, really, except getting those "puppies" -- steaks and hamburgers -- on the grill.

Enter new neighbors Sharon (Sokolovic) and Kenny (Pettie). They've just moved into Kenny's uncle's house next door where they hope to get a fresh start on life following the completion of rehabilitation programs for substance abuse. Sharon is so moved by the new "friendship" with her neighbors that she cries. This vulnerability prompts Mary to feel she can share some of the pent up frustration and longing to escape that she feels with her new "friend." To her dismay, however, Sharon's "user" eye quickly identifies Mary's coping mechanism -- alcohol. And Ben, actually, might be doing some abusing of his own.

The relationship continues to develop in an awkward and forced manner with more "puppies" on the grill. Ben offers his financial advice to Kenny who agrees to act as a test client for the new business. Mary and Sharon make plans to go on a camping trip in the mountains. All the while, Ben and Mary continue to wonder about their neighbors who still have no furniture in their house.

After a night of wild partying, the relationship enters a new reality, put into persepctive by Kenny's uncle Frank (Cullum) who stops by. In a casting coup, Kauffman has the excellent Broadway actor Cullum (Shenandoah, On the Twentieth Century, Urinetown, 110 in the Shade and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), who masterfully creates a character in just seconds and delivers the show's funniest line. He's only there for a few minutes, but he grounds all of the zany circumstances and makes us think, "who really is our neighbor" and "just how well do we know any of them or ourselves?"

D'Amour's engaging play is full of sharp dialgue and humor (Schwimmer in particular, had me laughing with facial expressions indicating silent thoughts about his rather bizarre neighbors.) The play is a brisk one hour and 40 minutes and from start to finish, no matter how bizarre or lost the people on stage might seem, we know deep down, they are us. This could be happening to any of us who live in a "first ring" suburb in a mid-size American city, where Detroit is set according to the program. Back when these developments were built, people lived in houses with their families, had their friends over for dinner and lived the "American Dream." Times have changed and the people living in the houses now live very different lives.

The front and backs of the houses are a product of the creative team, right down to suburban sound effects:  Scenic Design, Louisa Thompson; Costume Design, Kaye Voyce; Lighting Design, Mark Barton; Sound Design Matt Tierney.

Detroit has been extended through Oct. 28. Don't miss an opportunity to see this play, which besides being considered for the Pulitzer, also was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize given to women playwrights.

The performance schedule: Now-Oct 7, Oct. 16-28* Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd St., NYC; Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2:30 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30pm. Wednesday matinees Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. Tickets: 212-279-4200 noon to 8 pm daily; online at For more information about Playwrights Horizons, visit

*PLEASE NOTE: In extension weeks, understudies may appear.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
--The two women kiss
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Sexual dialogue and moves

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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