Schwimmer Captures Frayed, Bad Times in ‘Detroit’: Review

Sarah Sokolovic, Darren Pettie, David Schwimmer and Amy Ryan star in Lisa D'Amour's "Detroit" at Playwrights Horizons. The new drama was directed by Anne Kauffman. Photographer: Jeremy Daniel/Publicity Office via Bloomberg

Mitt Romney is right. He probably shouldn’t count on votes from the two couples living on the edge of oblivion in Lisa D’Amour’s literally searing “Detroit.”

Set in the suburbs of a city that could be the one in the title, “Detroit” offers plenty of backyard barbecuing among wood-planked decks outfitted with umbrellaed patio furniture.

But the meat is the cheapest cut available. The sliding doors don’t slide. The furniture is broken, falling apart or just plain dangerous. Everything is collapsing and nothing is metaphor. Even the bizarre dreams the four recount to one another smack of ruined lives and dashed hopes.

Ben (David Schwimmer, of “Friends”) and Mary (Amy Ryan, “A Streetcar Named Desire”) are hosting dinner al fresco for their new neighbors, Sharon (Sarah Sokolovic) and Kenny (Darren Pettie). It’s a neighborhood of what used to be called starter homes, in the days when upward mobility still had meaning for people who could pay down a mortgage while socking away something for the future.

Now those homes are shabby, their inhabitants unencumbered by any hope of moving on. Ben was recently laid off from his job hustling mortgages at a bank. Mary keeps them afloat as a paralegal.

Worse Off

Much worse off are Kenny and Sharon, who met in rehab and recently set up housekeeping next door in an abandoned place owned, Sharon says, by a distant relative. They exude neediness and speak in rehab-jargon while slowly relapsing.

They’re obviously sinister. Ben and Mary are a bit slow on the uptake, even when the scene shifts to the other house, which is crumbling on the outside and empty within.

The sounds of air conditioners, sirens, slamming doors and arguing spouses float in and out of range, barely noticeable until they’re gone, thanks to Matt Tierney’s subtle, ghostly soundscape.

Louisa Thompson’s amazing sets give us the two homes in different states of decrepitude with atmospheric help from Mark Barton’s hazy lighting. Kaye Voyce’s costumes suggest the different degrees of barely getting by.

As shared meals grow increasingly scary and bloody, “Detroit” takes on a hyperrealist intensity under the direction of Anne Kauffman (“Slowgirl”).

Things get weirder and weirder even as the performances remain grounded.

David Schwimmer

The cast is perfectly balanced. Schwimmer has a gruff geniality, while Ryan simmers with anger beneath a daffodil exterior. Pettie is wiry and on edge, Sokolovic touching in her aging hippieness. John Cullum appears in a nostalgic, if unnecessary, postscript that tells us what we already know about these troubled people and this plagued place.

Like Thomas Berger’s “Neighbors” (turned into a 1981 movie with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), these are folks you probably don’t want living next door. But these days, that could happen. “Detroit” is a horror story hitting very close to home.

Through Oct. 7 at 416 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; Rating: ****

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Very Good
**     Good
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Rich Jaroslovsky on technology.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE