Who invites their neighbors over for dinner anymore?

The Readers’ Theatre, cast of Detroit: (left to right): Effie Johnson, AJ Sage, Camilla Schade and Gary Weissbrot.  All photos by Anne Marie Cummings, Founder and Artistic Director of The Readers’ Theatre (www.thereaderstheatre.com)

The Readers’ Theatre, cast of Detroit: (left to right): Effie Johnson, AJ Sage, Camilla Schade and Gary Weissbrot. All photos by Anne Marie Cummings, Founder and Artistic Director of The Readers’ Theatre (www.thereaderstheatre.com)

The Readers’ Theatre of Ithaca (RTI) presents Lisa D’Amour’s 2013 Obie award-winning dark comedy Detroit, which presents questions of community and relationships, at Cinemapolis May 2-4. I was invited to a preview and found a discussion-provoking performance, enhanced by the Readers’ Theatre style of scripts in hand.

Detroit was a top 10 play of 2012 by The New York Times, New York Magazine, and Time Magazine; a 2013 Obie Award winner for best new play; and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize and Susan Smith Blackburn Award finalist. “With the news of Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy-the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history-Lisa D’Amour’s play couldn’t be more timely,” said Anne Marie Cummings, The Readers’ Theatre’s Founder and Artistic Director. “This play is immensely entertaining where people live dangerously on the tightrope between boredom and self-destruction. It also taps into the smashing of America’s suburban paradigm rewiring our understanding of the American dream.”

Directed by Cummings, the cast includes Effie Johnson (Sight Unseen, by Donald Margulies with RTI), Camilla Schade (her first production with RTI), Alex Jay Sage (also now Associate Artistic Director of RTI), Gary Weissbrot (True West, by Sam Shepard with RTI), and Chris Dell (also this play’s Assistant Director) reading stage directions.

The play’s premise is so believable – this could be any backyard you know – even your own. Mary and Ben are dealing with Ben’s layoff and his new job search, and have invited their new neighbors, Kenny and Sharon, to a barbeque. As we enter into the first scene, Dell’s stage directions seem to come down from the heavens and set the context for the couples. As they begin the ‘getting-to-know-you’ phase of their relationships, you see the loneliness of Ben and Mary paralleled by Sharon’s description of our culture’s communication breakdown that goes hand-in-hand with our economic breakdown. To highlight the isolation and anonymity of modern life, Cummings has chosen to direct this in the style of the theatre of the absurd – leading to an incongruous sensation of participating with the characters, as well as a physical representation of their disconnectedness.

The 90 minutes passes quickly – I was drawn into the story and wanted to see what would happen next (and no, I didn’t see what does end up happening coming). In particular, Mary has an emotional breakdown with Sharon that feels universal, while Sharon provides a look into addiction. With these raw emotional moments being presented, it pushes me to think about the connections I have in my neighborhood.

These characters are seeking not just community, but a specific subset of community: a group of people you can call your own. When I was growing up, this subset was limited by physical proximity, but in today’s electronic Facebook and tweeting world, you can have connections with anyone, anywhere. So now a world of possibilities has opened up, but when I need help with a branch fallen in my driveway or a proverbial cup of sugar, I still need an actual person to be present.

Detroit also pushed me to ask what is truth in a relationship….you don’t tell all your history the first, second, tenth time you meet people. Where, exactly, is the line for private and public, social niceties and true connection? When we pick and choose what truth we present, does it invalidate that truth?

Finally, I realized an overlapping set of delightful conditions: local talent sharing thought-provoking performances in a local theatre organization that was started to bring quality theatre affordably during the recent economic hardship (RTI was born in 2010), sponsored by a local fraternal organization that has been in the community for 106 years and whose motto is ‘people helping people’ (Fraternal Order of Eagles #1253), and presented in the heart of our downtown (Cinemapolis). We’re in the right space to discuss Detroit.

Detroit will take place at the theatre’s new performance space, Cinemapolis, 120 East Green Street. Performances run May 2 and May 3 at 8pm and May 4th at 6:30pm. TICKETS CAN NOW BE PURCHASED ONLINE at www.thereaderstheatre.com. Advanced tickets are $10 with a reservation (students) and $12 at the door (adults and seniors). Tickets at the door are $12 with a reservation (students, ID required) and $15 (adults and seniors). Advanced tickets can also be purchased at Cinemapolis, in person. Also, each of the three performances will have a free talk balk afterwards with the cast and directors (I love this).

Follow the audio blogs about the play at www.thereaderstheatre.com.


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