Summer barbecues fuel a modern farce
“It’s a trailer trash party!” Sharon exclaims to Mary, who served Sharon caviar at her own shindig just the day before. But Sharon isn’t a caviar gal, so she proffers Cheese Whiz, bean dip and Fritos to her guests, Mary and her husband, Ben. And Mary and Ben accept as graciously as they can, because Sharon and her hubby, Kenny, are their new next door neighbors, and they want to be friendly. So the two married pairs swap barbecue get-togethers, which take place in adjoining back yards complete with lawn furniture, portable grills and upsetting secrets.
Those back yards seem innocuous at first, but they turn into arenas for raw emotions, revelations and a combustion that’s at first emotional but turns all too real when a blaze flares, threatening one of the houses.
This is the shape of Lisa d’Amour’s funny, unsettling Detroit, now at Aurora Theatre. The tale doesn’t take place in Detroit–we never learn exactly where it happens–but the automotive city came to symbolize 2008’s economic collapse. That collapse was another nail in the coffin of our faith in the American dream of middle class security, and the anxious uncertainty it engendered hovers over the play like acrid smoke over a grill.
Mary and Ben are clinging as best they can to middle class status. They own their house–well, the bank does. She has a job, and though Ben was recently “let go,” he has big plans to start his own business via the internet. The newly arrived, and younger, Sharon and Kenny are a little odd from the get-go. They don’t own the house they’ve recently occupied (it seems to be a loaner), and when Mary and Ben discover there’s no furniture in it and that its occupants met in drug rehab, they’re forced to re-evaluate their attachment. Are their new friends trailer trash in more ways than one? Not that Mary and Ben are without issues. Mary drinks too much, and as for Ben’s big plans, is he doing anything to further them or is he just surfing the net?
D’Amour tosses these mismatched couples into a sneakily funny farce that can make your head spin, especially when its denizens start to blurt their dreams. Things seem always on the verge of getting out of hand, and in fact they go crazily out of hand at the end, in a wild dance that feels like a suburban parody of a Lord of the Flies ceremony, in which the id rules.
Director Josh Costello orchestrates the chaos expertly, and his support team backs him up well: Mikiko Uesugi (set), Christine Crook (costumes), Kurt Landisman (lighting) and Cliff Carruthers (sound).
The cast chews the scenery amusingly, and it gives the unsettling moments a nice, shivery twist: Amy Resnick as Mary, Jeff Garrett as Ben, Luisa Frasconi as Sharon, Patrick Kelly Jones as Kenny. When you leave the theater you may never regard barbecues in quite the same way, and as for cosying up to your neighbors, you may decide that arms length is the best way to go.
The concluding offering of Aurora Theatre’s 23rd season, Detroit plays on Addison Street until July 19th. Aurora’s 2015-16 roster includes plays by Amy Freed and Mark Jackson, along with Athol Fugard’s modern classic, Master Harold and the Boys. For tickets/information call 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.