Jason Rouse

Theater review: ‘Detroit’ gets down to particular cases

Lisa D'Amour's fine play about two suburban couples gets a well-acted production from Portland Playhouse

Brooke Totman toasts the company in "Detroit" at Portland Playhouse.

Brooke Totman toasts the company in “Detroit” at Portland Playhouse.

Pretty quickly in Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” now playing at Portland Playhouse, the lay of the land becomes apparent. Frank and Mary live in an old suburb of some unnamed city (Detroit itself never gets a shoutout). Mary’s a paralegal who is developing a taste for expensive food, and Ben is starting a financial advice service with the severance he received from his old job at the bank. Life could be better.

As the play begins, they are getting together for a backyard cook-out with Kenny and Sharon, who just moved in next door but occupy a lower rung on the economic ladder. Sharon works at a call center, and Kenny’s a warehouseman. They’ve only managed to crash this neighborhood because they are living in Kenny’s great-aunt’s house. Or something like that. Life could be a whole lot better.

They live on Sunshine Way, close to Ultraviolet Lane and Fluorescent Avenue.

Ben and Mary, Kenny and Sharon. No one is special, and nothing all that special happens to them in the course of the play, well, except for the odd catastrophe, and even that’s no big deal. Nobody symbolizes anything, no one is a stock character, nothing much happens, the politics of it are in deep subtext (if they are there at all), the conflicts are mostly inner ones, though sometimes couples do disagree. And yet “Detroit” is mesmerizing, maybe because we so seldom see people like this. The genius of D’Amour in “Detroit” is how particular her characters are, and how true that particularity seems to us. The strength of this production is the ability of its cast to deliver those characters clearly, despite their inevitable complexity.

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