Fire up the grill! Steppenwolf’s ‘Detroit’ adds extra fuel to that neighborly get-together

“Steaks done yet?” The cast of Steppenwolf’s “Detroit” gets down and dirty.

Do you know your neighbors? I mean, really know them? Or are they more like strangers who just happen to share proximity with you, and the thought of extending the relationship past the property line has “bad idea” written all over it. A friendly wave will suffice, thank you.

Lisa D’Amour’s darkly funny new play “Detroit” is like the worst case scenario of what could happen by befriending those people who live next door. You light the grill for a harmless get-together, and soon you’re (over)sharing secrets, unearthing hidden desires and crying on each other’s patios. And then you have to face them the next day — and the day after that, and so on…

I’ve been there. It’s not good.

But it’s never ended for me the way it does for Mary (Laurie Metcalf) and Ben (Ian Barford). A seemingly normal, suburbanized married couple, they befriend Kenny and Sharon (Kevin Anderson and Kate Arrington) — an endearingly offbeat pair who’ve moved into the long-abandoned house next door. Upon opening their doors to each other, their lives quickly intermingle, and they soon find themselves waking up to the biggest hangover of their life.

Escapism is a potent theme here. Everyone in this play is stuck in their own small, sad way. When they do make attempts to break away from it all — Mary and Sharon plan an elaborate and ill-fated camping trip in the woods while Ben plans to make millions by simply building a website, for example — it fails. Miserably. Catastrophically. Pyrotechnically, even.

I loved this play. Loved it. Shocking, dangerous, dramatic, and wickedly funny — this isn’t a play rich on plot as it is character development. And director Austin Pendleton has orchestrated some of the best ensemble acting I’ve seen in a long time. Metcalf, as the “Type-A to outdo all Type-As” Mary, is like a stick of dynamite poised for ignition. “Stand back: she’s gonna blow!” Barford cowers in the shadow as her deadbeat, unemployed husband. And Anderson and Arrington are ideal as the eternally broke couple who may have more then a few skeletons in the closet.

It would be silly not to mention the set. After all, scenic designer Kevin Depinet manages to fit two full-scale homes on Steppenwolf’s stage — which is essential to a play that so deftly explores the myths and risks of property ownership. As Kenny says to Ben: “Hold on to that house!”

Maybe Ben should listen to Kenny.

“Detroit” plays through Nov. 7 at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs theatre. More info here >

5 thoughts on “Fire up the grill! Steppenwolf’s ‘Detroit’ adds extra fuel to that neighborly get-together

  1. I AM silly! I forgot to mention the houses! Plus, I wanted to do a Talking Head joke :) Let’s put Laurie Metcalf on our “Celebrities to Stalk” list. She’s a hoot!

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