National Theatre, London
The title of this play immediately flags up expectations for the content. The city of Detroit in the state of Michigan, U.S., was the home of the revolutionary Ford vehicle production line. It has always been the hub of the American car industry which in recent years, unexpectedly collapsed. Financial events such as these are never simple, but some attribute the industry’s failure to their refusal to invest in newer, greener technology. The consequences have been drastic: Detroit is now mostly an industrial wasteland, abandoned by its inhabitants and left stewing in the remnants of its regional pride.
Lisa D’Amour’s play focuses on the suburbs outside of Detroit, where the effects of financial insecurity are seeping through into a world of forced ‘love-your-neighbour’ interaction. The play opens with an outdoor dinner party where all-American couple Ben and Mary (perfectly played by Justine Mitchell and Stuart McQuarrie) are meeting their new neighbours. Kenny and Sharon seem ordinary at first, but all soon becomes clear. What you have is essentially Abigail’s Party, but with crack and heroin alongside all the booze; the result is even more disaster and injury. Will Adamsdale and Clare Dunne are impressively convincing as recovering drug addicts, too.
The dialogue is insightful, with many witty suburban crises for Mary to indulge in and some well-planned comedy moments. There are times when you yearn for a change of setting, or even a change of characters. As entertaining as the leads are, the drunken southern drawls of hysterical crack heads can be tiring if you lack patience. The eventual appearance of the nostalgic (and sober) local Frank (Christian Rodska) is refreshing. Despite this, the inevitable party scene is genuinely tickling.
The dramatic event, which summons the plays end, seems to stretch too far at first. America is so spacious, that when something is damaged beyond repair it is often simply left, a ghost that stimulates nostalgic mourning, while people move on. Phenomena such as the abandonment of Detroit could only happen in a country with the luxury of space. Like a dog with a bad owner; if a mess is made, nobody will clean it up.
It is a sense of unavoidable loss and finality that rises strongly from the performance, paralleling with the irreversible torment drug addicts inflict on their own bodies. The city becomes a metaphor for the people and the people a metaphor for the city. The topics explored are relevant and worthy of attention, so I would recommend pouncing on an Entry Pass ticket while you can. Bearable drunk acting is pretty rare after all.