Kitchen Dog Theater
Directed by Tim Johnson
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Costume Design – Jen J Madison
Lighting Design – Aaron Johansen
Sound Design – Kellen Voss
Property Design – Jen Gilsonb-Gilliam
Stage Manager – Kasson Marroquin
Jeremy Schwartz – Kenny
Tina Parker – Mary
Jenny Ledel – Sharon
Ira Steck – Ben
H. Francis Fuselier – Frank
Reviewed Performance 9/27/2013
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
We humans are odd animals. We’re born to dream and are driven to reach for those dreams against all odds. All levels of society buy into The American Dream, yet for most of us it stays just out of sight. Still we yearn and conjure, conspire and fight, and claim that reaching for the dream is the highest of American ideals.
After WWII Americans rushed into prosperity and millions of people reached the dream of a new home. Cities expanded outward creating suburbs, the first circle of development. At first developers promoted close-knit communities, a bit like tribal villages, and growth was huge. Expansion continued with new layers of “burbs” and eventually new suburban cities. The goal was always the same, to provide an opportunity for new dreamers. But endless growth fragmented community spirit and the dream was often shattered by crime and isolation and those first circles were the first to be hit with decay and decline. All this growth and fragmentation became a metaphor for people’s personal lives.
Detroit tells the story of one of these neighborhoods and two couples in different ends of the economic spectrum. It doesn’t have to be set in the Motor City; this story unfolded across America. We still see this story today, though the idea of community spirit is no longer part if the dream.
Lisa D’Amour wrote Detroit in 2010 when it premiered at Steppenwolf Theater. The play made her a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and won the 2013 Obie for Best New American Play. Kitchen Dog Theater opened their 23rd season with the Regional Premier of Detroit at The MAC on McKinney in Dallas. Directed by Tim Johnson, five local professional actors and an outstanding production crew have created a dynamic and exciting experience.
Sometimes you read a play that’s advertised to be a comedy and it just isn’t very funny, but then you put it in the hands of an outstanding production team and talented actors and it becomes hilarious. That’s the case with Detroit. It’s not made to be read but heard aloud by actors who can take those words and make them both funny and poignant.
The story takes place in the yards between two neighborhood houses. Clare Floyd DeVries designed two house facades on either end of the stage area separated by a large yard, covered in real sod grass. Even the smell was real. An old dilapidated house appeared on one side and a well-kept two-story with siding and a nice patio was on the other. Aaron Johansen lit this set in a way that provided many options for where the actors could play, with daylight and darkness and special lighting for the house internals and even some specials for effects. Most of the action took place during yard meals, so Jen Gilson-Gilliam found numerous properties to enjoy grilling outdoors, including an expensive grill from Home Depot for one family and a shoddy thrift store grill for the other.
Sound effects were designed by Kellen Voss which included pre-show songs from Rosemary Clooney to House of the Rising Sun and even some Talking Heads. Then a series of scene changes were covered by a cacophony of neighborhood sounds, just like the neighborhood I grew up in.
The idea of class difference was focused through costume. Jen J Madison dressed the actors in very different styles. The affluent couple wore nice clothing even while lounging, with fresh, popular ensembles that could’ve come from Macy’s. The other couple had thrift store clothes that suggested “white-trash.” Kenny was covered in tattoos revealed because of his short pants and favored undershirt.
The affluent couple is Ben and Mary, a laid-off banker trying to create an online web business and a paralegal who only seems to be working until Ben gets his business running. Ira Steck played Ben as a stereotypical banker, precise, conservative, clean-cut, and reserved. Mary, as created by Tina Parker, is outgoing, conservative, cautious, yet ready to embrace the new neighbors. Steck takes his Ben on a journey from a proud, confident financial advisor, ready to tell the world how to succeed, to a drunken revelation about what he’s really been doing with his time. Parker shows many levels of Mary’s pride and angst, betrayal, and finally acceptance. But she also revealed Mary’s deep connection with alcohol through a series of very believable, hilarious drunk scenes, while avoiding the caricature of a “drunk.”
Kenny is a quintessential ex-convict trying to scratch out a new dream and his girlfriend, Sharon, is a flighty, spacey young woman buying into Kenny’s dream. Both are fresh out of rehab and supposedly working at sobriety, though they always seem to be invested in passionately describing all the drugs they did.
Jeremy Schwartz, tattoo-covered and sounding like Jesse Ventura, played Kenny as an outsider, looking at Ben with disdain and distrust, but also a little envy. Schwartz had a physically loose movement of arms and legs that portrayed Kenny’s rough background. Jenny Ledel played Sharon as a young, free spirit who seemed both innocent and street-wise. Sharon has the lines that question the real value of the American dream and Ledel’s delivery made those harsh realities funny, but thought-provoking. Sharon bonds quickly with Mary and the two women actors created some of the funniest scenes of the night.
H. Francis Fuselier came on as Frank, Kenny’s uncle and owner of the old house. Frank fills in the details about Kenny’s early life problems, but also paints a plaintive picture of the dream neighborhood back in its heyday. Fuselier adopted the style of an older, understanding historian who asks where the dream went and longs for how it used to be. Through Fuselier’s short monologues we discovered what made the dream so attractive.
Detroit sends the message that the American Dream may indeed be dead. Current philosophers suggest exactly that. Fragmentation of society is at an all-time high, especially with the advent of virtual communities and impersonal communications. And yet the Dream business is alive and well and the drive to succeed is just as popular, though definitions of success have greatly shifted.
Perhaps the focus on the dream is skewed. Is it real at all? In the early 20th century, humorist Max Beerbohm said, “We must stop talking about the American dream and start listening to the dreams of Americans.” I think that’s the resonating message of Detroit.
Kitchen Dog Theatre
3120 McKinney Avenue ,Dallas, TX 75204
Plays through October 26th
Wednesday - Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm ; Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday tickets are $15.00; Friday tickets are $20.00. Saturday tickets are $25.00. Pay-What-You-Can for first 25 people on Wednesday or Thursday.
For info and tickets visit www.kitchendogtheater.org or call 214-953-1055.