When people hit “rock bottom”, they are forced to evaluate values, and in the case of Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, an opportunity to build a new life presents itself at the most troubling of times. Sharon and Kenny are ex-junkies trying to get their act together, but no easy solution exists, and all we see is their struggle to make every day count. The story is one of resilience, about the human ability to make the best out of nothing, and ironically, also about our tendencies at making the worst out of what we do have. The script is a surprising and quirky one, with an unusual sense of humour that begins unassumingly but gains momentum with every scene, leading to an explosive conclusion that ties up the many loose ends that it scatters along the way.
The production begins almost too enthusiastically, with actors keen to entertain while establishing a context that should probably look and feel more pedestrian at that early stage. Performances by the very striking women of the cast are consistently animated, which works well when subtexts are being communicated, but at other times can come across overly farcical. Dark social comedies require a delicate balance, but early comic moments tend to obscure the atmosphere of depression that the play wishes to convey. As the plot progresses into a wild and surreal space, the extravagant performances become congruous and very engaging indeed. Ed Wightman’s tender portrayal of Ben provides the authentic centre of the production. His plight is readily identifiable, and the actor wins our empathy with a subtle vulnerability that he makes perceivable in between charming interpretations of comic sequences. Addict in recovery, Sharon is played by the exuberant Claire Lovering who is delightfully funny in every scene, but the ambiguity of her character prevents us from achieving an understanding of her circumstances with sufficient depth.
The show is amusing and unpredictable, with scenes flowing into each other with little indication of what is about to occur next. There is a polish to the production that makes viewing pleasurable, but for all its dramatic events it does not seem to be able to provoke much thought about its grave themes of poverty and social decay. Detroit, the city, has been going through ruinous transformations, of which great lessons are certainly attainable, and staging a work with the same name only raises expectations for considerable profundity. There is much to be explored in this play but on this occasion, some of it remains uncovered.