Talk Back: Playwright discusses Detroit

Detroit

 

After the last of the audience members trickled out the doors on opening night, the cast and crew of Detroit settled in for a talk-back session with its award-winning playwright, Lisa D’Amour. Accompanied by a few members of Rollins faculty and the Winter Park community, what ensued was a comfortable conversation between D’Amour and her audience.

Directed by Kathleen Capdesuner ’17, Detroit portrays the hijinks of middle-class couple Mary (Chloe Brewer ’17) and Ben (Duncan Hon ’19), who choose to welcome the fresh out-of-rehab Sharon (Ana Suarez ’16) and Kenny (Matthew Striegel ’17) into their neighborhood.

“This is the most stripped-down production of Detroit I’ve ever seen before,” D’Amour remarked when asked for her initial impressions of the show. The script calls for a multitude of props that would have never been feasible within the Fred Stone Theatre. Instead, the production veered towards the bare minimum, using frames and imagination to represent the neighboring houses.

“It was about the acting and our imaginations,” she continued, praising the cast for their amazing chemistry and trust, as well as “owning the party scene” at the climax of the plotline.

One audience member questioned the reason for naming the play Detroit, particularly since it contains no references to the actual city. D’Amour alleged that it was not the city she was attempting to invoke, but “(w)hat Detroit evokes in the minds of people who don’t live in Detroit.”

Her play touches on many subjects that worry today’s middle-class: the death of the American dream and the phenomenon of white flight, for example. Her plays, D’Amour insisted, were written to cause debate.

Furthermore, she commended the cast for choosing to cast a man of color in the role of the elderly Frank, who comes in to close the play with a sense of nostalgia. She noted that Detroit is an overwhelmingly White play associated with an overwhelmingly Black city, and highlighted the importance of such a casting choice within the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. According to D’Amour “(It) shines a light on the flaws of the play, and what the play might be ignoring.”

Throughout the play, there is a definite sense that the characters long for the suburbs of their youth: a time when children played on the street and neighbors went next door to borrow sugar. Both couples seem to sense the growing isolation in neighborhood and seem to ask themselves, as one audience member asked D’Amour, “Are we doomed to that?” D’Amour laughed in response. “I love bringing people together,” she claimed, citing her New Orleans upbringing as a justification for her friendly nature and love of hosting.

When prompted, D’Amour elaborated on her other plays besides Detroit. She has an obsession with location: other than Detroit, her body of work includes New Orleans, Milton, and Cherokee. Milton is of special interest as one of her ventures into what she calls “interdisciplinary theatre.”

As a collaboration work, it is based on five different cities in the United States named Milton and performed for those residents. For one particular Milton, with a large Hispanic population, the play was adapted to be performed in half in Spanish, half in English.

D’Amour lastly touched upon the theme of addiction, which is heavily present in the play. Both the characters of Sharon and Kenny struggle with substance abuse, and the ever-anxious Mary finds herself nurturing an alcohol problem. When asked whether her play had a message regarding addiction, D’Amour emphasized the “fragile nature of recovery” and the need for empathy above all.

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