Howdy neighbor, welcome to hell — the smoldering ash heap of an American economy that once fed dreams, nourished families and created the greatest civilization on Earth. That America was a real place, with pretty neighborhoods and trees in the yard and friends who trusted one another. In Lisa D’Amour’s incendiary and brilliant play “Detroit,” fierce gods of fate rain down destruction on that remembered Eden.
Joel Sass’ staging of “Detroit” at the Jungle Theater pushes D’Amour’s script to the frayed edges of mythology. His production team has created a fearless and swirling incantation that does what great theater should do: Grab you, scare you, haunt you and demand that you pay attention.
Ben (John Middleton) and Mary (Angela Timberman) invite their new neighbors over for dinner. Kenny (Tyson Forbes) and Sharon (Anna Sundberg) live in the shabbier home of Sass’ neighborhood. Fresh from rehab, they are working at menial labor jobs but they are happy, living in the moment and lurching toward normalcy.
Ben has lost his bank job but plans to relaunch as a financial planner. As for Mary? She’s a drinker.
Oddly, these people envy each other. Mary and Ben have tasted material success, lost it and now hate their lives. Kenny and Sharon represent a certain freedom. The younger couple appear to like the friendship and homeostasis of Mary and Ben.
D’Amour refuses the dreary political earnestness of lunch-pail realism in this treatise — no harangues about the boss or the one percent. Her script is the scaffolding for a myth that uses material from the bizarre extremes of real life. She’s beyond the literal and into the truth of fable. Sass’ ferociously brisk production acutely illustrates those oversized horrors.
Forbes’ Kenny in particular is a feral force of nature — a thumping id seething with lust, the glint of violence always right behind his eyes. Middleton’s Ben bears the scars of a stiff and proper upbringing but the bacchanalia of his neighbors — their charisma and recklessness — loosens his spine.
Timberman’s Mary plays the straight role. Dulled by booze, she glares at her situation with dry cynicism. When she melts down, the contrast is deliciously unkempt.
And this is what’s wonderful about the Jungle production. Sass and his cast have the confidence in themselves and D’Amour’s script to let things get out of control. They are showing us a civilization heaving through its last gasps. As the addicts Sharon and Kenny know with their atavistic wisdom, you need to reach zero before you can start over.