Lisa Chappell, Claire Lovering, James O'Connell and Ed Wightman. Images: Gez Xavier Mansfield.



Detroit, by Lisa D’Armour | Directed by Ross McGregor

Darlinghurst Theatre | Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 16 August

Lisa D’Armour’s 2011 impressive black comedy Detroit is aptly named. America’s renowned Motor City recently was on the edge of bankruptcy and this entertaining black comedy uses this symbolic name to examine suburbanisation and the collapse of the American Dream.

Central to the story are Mary (Lisa Chappell) and Ben (Ed Wightman), a middle-class couple. Mary works as a paralegal whilst Ben, before he was made redundant, was a loan officer for a bank. As the play starts they have invited their newly arrived neighbours, Kenny (James O’Connell) and Sharon (Claire Lovering), for a welcoming BBQ.

Kenny and Sharon, who met in rehab, are younger and less affluent and seemingly have little in common with Mary and Ben, but increasingly they start spending more time with each other and they begin to share their stories.

Ben is working from home, ironically developing a web site to assist people to get out of debt, and he has little self-esteem after his recent redundancy. Wightman is economically convincing as the bland Ben who longs to be British.

Mary, meanwhile, is exhausted and struggling to keep it together and is increasingly relying on a drink or two to help her through. Chappell is both funny and touching as Mary and she charts her gradual unravelling with sophisticated subtlety, showcasing her despair by continuous busyness in an attempt to mask her despondency.

Her friendship with Sharon increases and it is Sharon who ultimately rescues her. “You’ve got to live this moment, Mary”, Sharon counsels, “That’s all you can do.” Claire Lovering plays Sharon with intense warmth and quirkiness, and above all humour, yet she also manages to convey her acute astuteness and her trust in chance and fate.

There are some intense moments of hilarity — Kenny’s monologue where he tries to convince Ben into a boy’s night and the frenzied dancing scene when the girls return from the aborted camping excursion are two examples that provide excellent physical comedy. The comedy is superbly choreographed and orchestrated by Ross McGregor’s direction as he mines the humour but still ensures the serious social commentary is evident.

Tobhiyah Stone Feller’s design brilliantly solves all the technical issues demanded of the narrative, and Benjamin Brockman’s lighting and AV design ably augments in all areas.

Some of the play’s serious commentary is somewhat sidelined by the strong accent on humour but, that being said, this production is first-rate — physically resourceful, satirical and very funny. Thumbs Up!

Claire Lovering, James O'Connell and Ed Wightman.

Claire Lovering and Lisa Chappell.