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Review: Detroit 

Southern Rep’s production of Lisa D’Amour’s play about two very different couples

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Photo by John Barrios

After her husband Ben loses his finance job, Mary begins to resent his lack of ambition — he stays at home all day while she works in a law office. Their new neighbors Kenny and Sharon, both fresh from rehab, provide a distraction from Mary and Ben's routine. Through backyard dinners, the two seemingly disparate couples bond through a shared restlessness, which eventually turns dangerous, in Southern Rep's production of Lisa D'Amour's Pulitzer Prize finalist Detroit at the Ashe Power House.

  Directed by Aimee Hayes, this piece of art does more than imitate life; the show replicates it in a way that makes one rethink everyday situations. Mary (Jessica Podewell) and Ben (Mike Harkins) are uptight. They contrast the young passion of Kenny (Joshua Mark Sienkiewicz) and Sharon (Laura Friedmann). The show's setup appears simple: A couple moves in and their neighbors extend friendship by way of steak and potatoes. But there's an unnerving power to this seemingly mundane scenario. It makes the heightened state of things to come more devastating.

  A small backyard physically divides the two couples, but there's a larger wealth gap between them. Though Kenny and Sharon are a bit messy — they serve Cheetos as appetizers to Mary's caviar — they're extremely lovable. Kenny is a big hulking presence. Though the character is a bit unhinged, Sienkiewicz plays him with control; he lets the manic energy loose, then pulls back and is effective in both booming and quiet moments. Friedmann and Sienkiewicz also have great chemistry and it's fun to watch them flirt. Friedmann's emotional range reveals the implications of her character's heartbreaking arc. Her effective performance shows the tortured nature of a person dealing with addiction issues, and we want her to pull through when things look bleak.

  As Mary, Podewell embodies the anxiety of a woman who believes pretense and being a "great host" are ideals for success. Podewell revels in nervous energy — her late-night breakdown is one of the most compelling moments in the show. Ben is the most buttoned-up of the characters, but Harkins makes him utterly relatable. He's the guy who's done everything right his whole life yet feels unfulfilled.

  The production's set, designed by Martin Andrew, places the audience close to the action. In certain scenes, there's the possibility that the performers may trip over audience members' feet. The set's many thorough details — sod separating the houses, patio furniture dotting lawns — help enhance the narrative's realism.

  The show's plot moves at a slow burn, and this approach mimics how lives can seem fine, then suddenly spiral out of control. There's drug use and F-bombs galore (Southern Rep recommends the play for ages 16 and older).

  This production of Detroit is both beautiful and complicated. The show's dynamic cast and its interesting set create a fully realized world, which the characters ultimately destroy in a satisfying and cathartic performance.

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