Detroit – Torn in the U.S.A.


Detroit, Photo Credit: Chris Hartlove


Around The Bad Oracle, I’m known as a realist.  A realist with potentially unrealistic expectations for small theatre in Our Fair City. Yes, I’ve been called a few names, and trust, the Oracle tells me when you email her for trash talk (and then we toast our martinis to my steadfast tone of get-over-yourselfness). [Truth. – TBO] But, joking aside, I admit that I am occasionally the harsh one in this neck of the woods.  I do, however, have a heart, even if it is encased in black ice. [Truth. – TBO] I’ve always said that if you show me good theatre, you’ll know how much I’ve loved your efforts. And Fells Point Corner Theatre has done just that with their newest production, Detroit, written by Lisa D’Amour and directed by Michael B. Zemarel.  It is, simply, one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen in Baltimore.  Hands down.  I shit you not, look at my face when I say these words, these hips don’t lie, baby.  And Fells Point Corner should be thoroughly proud.

Detroit, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer, is a touching show that slaps you in the face with a reality that you might not connect with upon first viewing. White-bread, middle-class husband and wife Ben (Greg Jericho) and Mary (Beth Weber) of suburban Detroit (duh!) are have suffered a recent lay off . Ben is attempting to start his own online business but Mary knows that all he’s really doing is sitting around on his ass. Enter here some shocking new neighbors freshly ejected from rehab for every kind of drug addiction imaginable. They are Sharon (Rachel Roth) and Kenny (David Shoemaker) who, against all odds, befriend their WASPy neighbors through several back-deck cook-outs. It’s obvious that Sharon and Kenny don’t see life as black-and-white as their new fence buddies. They’re loud, drunk, uncultured…the list goes on. It’s a funny thing, though.  Ben and Mary, after a couple of beers (or glasses of Merlot, pardon) start to reveal more similarities than differences when it comes to their trashy neighbors. The two couples bond over the challenges that their so-called bucolic life presents and the same old sameness of their dual relationships. Many drunken nights (and strange sexual advances) later and we intuit that these two two-fers are destined for life-long, game-changing friendships. But we’re wrong. The rehabbers relapse while the Wonders begin to tumble into a spiral of consumerism and jealousy. By Act Two, a drunken party and a devastating catastrophe has everybody wondering exactly what is most important in life (“Did we even know them at all?”). Detroit is the kind of work where you have to sit with it awhile.  It comes on you like a shock, the poignancy and the power of it. The show is award winning for a reason – the dialogue is natural, honest and, at times, downright profound.

I don’t hand out the compliments like candy on a porch at Halloween – you gotta work for my sugar [TRUTH. – TBO]. But this production by FPCT is astounding. Every note came together in a symphony of exceptional theatre. Literally everything, from the profoundly natural direction to the phenomenal performances is fucking. on. point. Acting by all five cast members is powerful. Powerful and honest. Beth Weber as alcoholic housewife Mary plays the nuance of her tumultuous, psychosomatic character beautifully. It’s hard to make me feel for housewives with a drinking problem, but she nails it. Jericho’s Ben is equally repressed and pigeonholed. You can see the glimmer of hope in his eyes extinguish just a little more every time he realizes how his life has turned out. Roth’s Sharon channels Uma Thurman circa Pulp Fiction with her loud, semi-simple proclamations and revealing (in more ways than one) short-shorts. And Shoemaker’s Kenny (mustache and all!) reminds me exactly what it was like growing up across the street from a trailer park. He exudes cycle of poverty, sexual tension, and addict with ease. Larry Levinson, in his cameo single-scene as Frank, should not be overlooked. Larry’s work, while brief, adds richness to the story at a time when these character’s lives are most turbulent. All together this ensemble rocked a very diverse set of arcs like it was their life’s mission.

Aesthetically this production did not miss a single mark [Holy shit you guys.  I can’t believe Achilles just said that. – TBO]. Set (design and build by Bush Greenbeck), was superb. Greenbeck’s technical execution and stellar use of space provided two canvases for the show to play out on a stage often stuck in single-setting mode. It’s not often I rave about the set, but in this case, it really was the sixth character.  It helped to breathe even more life into the piece. The craftsmanship is top-notch and FPCT is lucky to have Greenbeck’s talent. Sound design by Chris Allen and Mike Zemarel provided lovely underscoring and punctuation to an atmosphere that could easily stagnate. Lighting by Charles W. Dansforth III supported the story and action appropriately. I enjoyed Dansforth’s simple use of color for scenes that felt more tense. Food styling by Jennifer Martin was lovely. I really enjoyed the use of edible props. What a refreshing idea and injection of realism for small theatre!

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Detroit is a shining moment for Fells Point Corner Theatre.  Director Michael B. Zemarel has brought together a stellar team to present this complicated, brave, exciting, thoughtful work.  Not only is the cast finely tuned, they work the words like it is their life’s business to get them out into the world.  The technical design, particularly the set, was beautiful and exciting.  I felt refreshed after watching this show.  Thank you, cast and crew of Detroit.  We needed you.  I needed this.

Running at Fells Point Corner Theatre until October 4th


‘Detroit’ at Fells Point Corner Theatre

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One comment

  • We saw this opening night. I liked it, but the SO was kind of “meh” on it, mainly because he thought the acting wasn’t good. I didn’t agree with that (I thought it was about as good as you get in Baltimore), and in particular thought Kenny totally nailed his part. I actually had more issues with the play… I thought it raised some interesting questions but the denouement was kind of WTF? Almost like the author didn’t know what to do with the ending… or perhaps I need to think about it some more.

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