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November play of the month: DETROIT by Lisa D'Amour

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

I read a lot of plays, not only for pleasure and storytelling but also because i'm always on the lookout for potential future Jakespeare productions.

Each month, I'll select one play that I think you should read as well...even if you don't own a theatre company either!

DETROIT by Lisa D'Amour

You don't have to be from The Motor City to enjoy this Pulitzer Prize-finalist since it's really about any first-ring suburb outside of any city.

So, perhaps it's not the best title, but its story is truly universal: The (de)evolution of neighborhoods that were once highly-respected places to live but have since sunk into a state of decay and decrepitude. Yet, despite that, there remains sparks of hope as a new generation tries to make it their home.

The play concerns two couples, neighbors, who at first seem like polar opposites but soon realize they have more in common than just the street they live on. Each are struggling with their own inner demons, the neighborhood serving as a place of disintegration for one couple and a step-up for the other. They meet somewhere in the middle of their own trajectories, first over a backyard barbecue, which grows like the very flames that power their grills.

In one way, this play is reminiscent of Clybourne Park, where the home and neighborhood are their own characters. There are obvious traces, too (or one might say homages), of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as the couples began taking swipes at each other, often fueled by alcohol, personal failure, and lost dreams. Unlike the latter, though, this one manages to find some heart by the end.

Some people may be put off by the casual way D'Amour writes, with some passages having little, if any, punctuation, and a plentitude of stage directions not telling but asking what should be happening on stage ("Or maybe he is carrying a wine bottle?"). These qualities strike me as almost Mamet-esque (another favorite playwright of mine, despite his deplorable real-life personality much like his loathsome characters) in their natural patterns of speech and the freedom which they give the director and creative team.

Detroit would certainly present challenges to stage, specifically the final scene, but as a text, D'Amour has managed to pack a lot into an otherwise "little" play. (It's only 55 pages which would likely translate to a little over an hour performed).

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