“Each new day in suburbia brings with it a new set of lies.” This may be the opening line of the hit American TV series Desperate Housewives but it couldn’t be more applicable to the situation presented in Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit.
The stage of the National’s Cottesloe theatre unites the most unlikely of friendships for Austin Pendleton’s new version of Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2010 production. In fact, the bond that blossoms between the two couples at the centre of D’Amour’s comedy comes as a greater surprise than the dramatic transformation of Kevin Depinet’s seemingly straightforward set later in the evening.
In a neighbourhood where the word ‘neighbour’ itself has become archaic, it is somewhat out of the ordinary for long-term residents Ben and Mary to invite the new couple moving in next door over for a friendly barbecue, but Sharon and Kenny could not be more delighted with their willingly communicative neighbours.
While Ben and Mary serve up steaks and caviar in their superior back garden, ketchup-coated burgers are all Kenny and Sharon have to offer outside their unfurnished abode. In this unnamed mid-sized American suburb – though we assume it’s in Detroit – we are faced with two couples and two opposing financial situations.
At least this is what outward appearances would suggest. But, in suburbia, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Detroit is a play of superficial exteriors, hidden identities and unspoken truths and, while we receive niggling indications of such underlying troubles from the outset, it isn’t until the beer starts flowing that the truth begins to bubble to the surface.
It is down to the mysterious outsider Frank (Christian Rodska) to reveal the greatest lie of all but it is perhaps the lies that Ben and Mary tell themselves that remain the most pertinent.
The self-deluded duo is evoked by faultless performances from Justine Mitchell and Stuart McQuarrie. Mitchell has seemingly modelled herself on one of Wisteria Lane’s finest in order to portray the eccentric but fragile wife of McQuarrie’s secretive Ben. Will Adamsdale’s lively and chaotic Kenny both suits and stands against Clare Dunne’s Sharon, who alternates between a woman on the edge and a caring companion to the, at times, desperate Mary, with whom she shares the intimate social space of the suburbs.
Social interaction in suburbia has been the subject of many sociological studies and literary works over the years but, with Detroit, D’Amour has combined the two, shining a sociological light on the suburban community while at the same time creating an undeniably entertaining script, which Pendleton has ingeniously translated for the Cottesloe’s exposing stage.