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Detroit at 12 Peers Theater

These aren't really characters; they're ideas of characters

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From left: Brett Sullivan Santry, Alyssa Herron, Sara Fisher and John Feightner in Detroit, at 12 Peers - PHOTO COURTESY OF MOTIVATED DESIGNS
  • Photo courtesy of Motivated Designs
  • From left: Brett Sullivan Santry, Alyssa Herron, Sara Fisher and John Feightner in Detroit, at 12 Peers

Lisa D'Amour's play Detroit (now receiving its local premiere at 12 Peers Theater) was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Detroit also won an Obie for Best New American play, in 2013. I'm giving D'Amour's work an award as well: The Most Confounding Play I've Seen This Year.

The play is set in the suburban backyard of an unnamed American city. (Detroit is never mentioned beyond the title; 12 Peers has implicitly reset the play somewhere in Pittsburgh, as evidenced by the Steelers merch on stage.)

We're introduced to two couples enjoying an outdoor meal. Mary and Ben have lived in the neighborhood for years. Their guests — a younger couple named Sharon and Ben — have just moved in next door.

Since this is a play, you know that pretty soon, secrets will be unfurled, tempers will be unleashed and general mayhem will ensue.

D'Amour doesn't disappoint — at least as far as stage pyrotechnics go. But to what end, I couldn't tell you. These aren't really characters; they're ideas of characters whose motivations (and even realities) change on the whim of the playwright. I found them tedious and implausible. On several occasions, for example, a character suddenly launches an emotionally extravagant shower of words — whether furious, yearning or nostalgic — that is disconnected from everything else and, once completed, has no effect on any of the other characters. D'Amour also strains for poetic allegory, which turns out to be slightly embarrassing.

Nonetheless, 12 Peers throws body and soul into this production. Alyssa Herron, Brett Sullivan Santry, John Feightner and Sara Fisher, with direction by Vince Ventura, attack this work head on. To say they haven't successfully landed the piece is misleading, because I'm not sure who could. This cast must leave the theater each night with throbbing migraines.

James Jamison has designed a skillfully detailed set. It's too big for the intimate Maker Theater space, but it is impressive.

But here's the really confounding part: While it would be easy to regard Detroit as mere twaddle, D'Amour again and again surprises with flashes of sharp writing and (too-) brief moments of interest. While these bits hardly make up for the surrounding muddle, this is a playwright you can't easily dismiss.

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