A Play of the Times

Kitchen Dog Theater's near-perfect Detroit avoids cheap laughs

Kitchen Dog Theater's near-perfect Detroit avoids cheap laughs

Detroit at Kitchen Dog Theater
Detroit stars Tina Parker, Ira Steck, Jeremy Schwartz and Jenny Ledel. Photo by Matt Mrozek
"Detroit" at Kitchen Dog Theater
Kitchen Dog Theater has a season-opening winner with Detroit. Photo by Matt Mrozek
Kitchen Dog Theater presents Detroit
Detroit runs through October 26 at McKinney Avenue Contemporary. Photo by Matt Mrozek
Detroit at Kitchen Dog Theater
"Detroit" at Kitchen Dog Theater
Kitchen Dog Theater presents Detroit

Kitchen Dog Theater scores big with its season opener, Detroit. Tim Johnson's sharp direction adds rich meaning to a poignant comedy about American financial collapse. 

When Sharon (Jenny Ledel) and Kenny (Jeremy Schwartz) move next door to Mary (Tina Parker) and Ben (Ira Steck), they strike up a neighborly friendship. They host barbecues in the backyards of their quiet suburban neighborhood.

As the stable couple, Mary and Ben take on a mentorship role in the friendship, offering advice on Sharon and Kenny's financial woes. Early on in the play, Sharon and Kenny confess they met in rehab and are trying to establish a sober, secure life. 

 Tied up in a play about economic stability is a story of human fragility.

Throughout her play, Lisa D'Amour builds perceptions only to shatter them. On the surface, Detroit juxtaposes two couples on the topics of financial stability, social norms and morality. Although the cast delivers riotously funny performances, the first few scenes seem unconvincingly feeble. 

As the play unravels, the characters and the brilliant design work reveal the metaphors steeped in the narrative. Mary hovers over Ben, who recently lost his job. She believes he spends his days working on a start-up company, and Kenny trusts him as a financial adviser.

Just across the flat, green lawn, Sharon and Kenny struggle to fill anything besides their fridge. One of the most incisive pieces of Clare Floyd DeVrie's set is the representation of a level playing field. 

All four people onstage have lost or are losing the agency they believed they possessed. In one of the most revealing scenes, Mary rushes to seek friendship from Sharon late at night. This unsettling moment increases when Sharon admits her unending desire to escape in the drugs from which she is recovering. Tied up in a play about economic stability is a story of human fragility. 

Johnson directs this intricate story with a rigid tenderness. He doesn't stoop to easy comedy, instead keeping the characters in an uncomfortable reality. Sharon and Mary develop a very real friendship, while Ben and Kenny struggle with male power dynamics. Leading this stellar cast, Parker allows Mary to melt from a skeptical opinion of Ledel's wide-eyed Sharon to an empathy that feels a lot like self-pity. 

In many ways, Detroit is the perfect play. It offers considerations about a highly relevant topic — without pandering — all the while entertaining audiences with a warm sense of humor. The people onstage are people you know, the situations realistic.  

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Detroit runs through October 26 at McKinney Avenue Contemporary.