'Detroit' by Lisa D'Amour

Coal Mine Theatre

Coal Mine Theatre

Joe Szekeres

Sardonically funny and wickedly revealing

Well, that ending was something I wasn’t expecting at all.

There was a statement from Nancy Rubin Stuart in the programme that caught my eye: “The suburban dream began innocently enough one and a half centuries ago, with a weariness of city life and a craving for all things, green, bright and pure.”

After a two-plus year absence, Coal Mine Theatre didn’t disappoint at all in its first-rate opening night performance return of Lisa D’Amour’s ‘Detroit’
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The story begins innocently enough as two couples get to know each other and discover certain facets of their characters that piqued my interest as an audience member. As events begin to unfold and things get turned on their head, this weariness which Stuart spoke of above becomes something far more destructive.

It’s never specified if the story takes place in the city of Detroit, but that doesn’t matter because the arrival of Frank (a wonderful Eric Peterson) in the final moments of the play brings this tale logically to its stark conclusion.

We are at a barbeque on the patio at Ben and Mary’s home (Sergio Di Zio and Diana Bentley) where they are entertaining their new neighbours, Kenny and Sharon (Craig Lauzon and Louise Lambert) who are renting the house next door. There appear to be subtle socio-economic differences between the two couples.

For one, Ben and Mary are dressed in summer wear that appears to be freshly laundered while Kenny and Sharon’s clothes appear dishevelled, unwashed, and rather tacky looking when people meet each other for the first time. Kenny and Sharon have no furniture in their house. Ben has just lost his job as a bank loans officer and is working on developing a new internet site helping people who are in debt. Mary is a paralegal. Kenny and Sharon appear not to share too much about themselves in this opening. We later learn he works in a warehouse and she works at a call centre.

But what is that old adage that appearances are deceiving? Well, when we learn what truth really lies underneath these four lives, my brow furrowed since my initial response was did I hear what I just heard?
At first, there are moments of clever timing and appropriate pausing in the awkward silence by the four characters. Sergio Di Zio’s eyes and facial expressions become the perfect indicator of Ben’s uncomfortableness. As Mary, Diana Bentley assumes the role of gracious party hostess just like the stereotypical 50s housewife in wanting to make sure everything is perfect until the pain from a nasty planter’s wart on her foot sets off further uncomfortable silence. Just like Di Zio, Craig Lauzon utilizes his stature, build and height to his advantage as he hesitates to say too much in this perfunctory greeting ritual. Louse Lambert’s Sharon is not silent like the other three. Sharon is the talkative one who says perhaps just a tad too much because she is nervous about meeting new people. Lambert nails this perfectly.

There are layers upon layers of contextual subtext within this script that are so interesting to unravel. Ken MacDonald’s blackened outlined set design of the two houses made me wonder why that choice was made. Trust me, that becomes clear as the story finishes. From Jill Harper’s Director’s Note, I learned ‘Detroit’ looked at the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, and the re-evaluation many Americans were making about their lives on account of their finances. Fast forward to 2022 and two years of a pandemic crisis, North Americans are also doing a great deal of re-evaluation about their own lives once again. We have been shaken up just like the financial crisis did to us in 2008. These last two years of the pandemic have continued to change our lives in so many ways.

Mary, Ben, Kenny, and Sharon shake up and change each other’s lives in such an extraordinary manner caused by inconceivable moments that made me laugh uncomfortably because I knew I shouldn’t be doing that, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing so. This occurred for me when Kenny tries to get Ben to go to the strip club since Sharon and Mary have gone camping. The hilarious persuasive (not bullying or intimidation) technique Kenny uses to convince Ben to go are wrong but Lauzon just goes for it while Di Zio is having one hell of a good time in response.

Guided by Director Jill Harper’s perceptive vision of human nature and interaction, Di Zio, Bentley, Lauzon and Lambert become keenly synchronous in harmony with each other. At one point I thought I was watching a bacchanal orgy. The four remain intensely and believably grounded in the heightened emotions and passions of the moment so much there were times I wanted to look away because I felt I was intruding. But I couldn’t stop looking either as I wanted to see where the story was headed and how it would conclude.

And that’s where Eric Peterson’s Frank quietly but admiringly tells us he lived in the neighbourhood years ago at a time when people spoke to each other genuinely in the ‘burbs. There was social interaction, people got out of their houses and actually got to know each other. There was a time when babysitters were hired so parents could go out for the evening.

That’s all gone now. Life must move forward but at what cost for we twenty-first-century individuals?
Final Comments: If actors are looking to change up their monologues for auditions, they may want to see this production and get a copy of the script for personal use.

“Sardonically funny and wickedly revealing, Coal Mine’s 'Detroit' welcomes us all back with open arms, a smile on their faces, laughter in our guts and human nature to consider. See it before it sells out because it’s going to do just that.”

Running time: Approximately one hour and 30 minutes no intermission.

The production runs to August 7 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. For tickets and to learn more about the production and the company, visit www.coalminetheatre.com.

Covid protocols were in effect at the opening night performance.

Visit www.coalminetheatre.com for further information on ticket prices.

DETROIT by Lisa D’Amour
Directed by Jill Harper
Stage Management: Sandi Becker
Set Design: Ken MacDonald
Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell
Costume Design: Melanie McNeill
Sound Design: Tim Lindsay
Fight Direction: Matt Richardson

Performers: Diana Bentley, Sergio Di Zio, Louise Lambert, Craig Lauzon

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