By Pat ShermanIt has been said that “good fences make for good neighbors.”
But, as San Diego Repertory Theatre’s production of “Detroit” shows, prior to inviting the couple next door for a get-acquainted backyard barbecue, it might also be prudent to conduct a background check — or at a minimum, make sure they own furniture.
Though Lisa D’Amour’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated and Obie Award-winning script ambles a little awkwardly and forcedly out of the gate, it gains momentum as newly arrived neighbors Sharon and Kenny (San Diego Rep newcomers Summer Spiro and Jeffrey Jones) begin to unfurl the shadowy details of their not-too-distant past, beginning with their courtship in a drug rehab facility.
Despite the red flags, neighbor hosts Ben and Mary (Steve Gunderson and Lisel Gorell-Getz) gradually let their defenses down, basking in a much-needed reprieve from their mundane lives. As the blue-collar elixir of Pabst Blue Ribbon flows through subsequent get-togethers, Ben and Mary unwittingly peel back the layers of their marital discontent.
Curiously, the play (with fine direction by Sam Woodhouse) makes no reference to the Motor City. Its 1960s, inner-city suburb-in-decline could be located within any American metropolis, proving fertile ground for examination of a down economy and the demise of neighborly social interactions once taken for granted.
Spiro is captivating as the conflicted and sexually uninhibited — albeit at times surprisingly astute — Sharon. Always the first to dance or incite, she’s a delight seething over the snooty neighbor in the pink jogging suit or uncovering the closeted Anglophile in Ben (an unemployed loan officer whiling away hours in a virtual England, while he claims to be building a website for his business).
Gorell-Getz (Mary) is equally on-target as the uptight executive using vodka to cope with her husband’s seeming indifference to rejoining the workforce. She longs to escape on a survivalist camping excursion, only to make it no farther than the gas station with her new-found confidant, Sharon, at her side.
Jones is steady as the amiably rough-and-tumble Kenny, who convinces bashful Ben to join him at a strip club (turns out Ben’s been there before), only to have their plans nixed when their wives return, giddy from their failed, yet brave, attempt at camping.
The change in the night’s itinerary opens a space for the play’s incendiary climax and appropriately unresolved denouement.
A fifth character, Frank (Robert Benedetti), closes the production, filling in the gaps for Ben and Mary on their now AWOL recovering addict neighbors, simultaneously offering a kind, redemptive gesture and melancholy rumination on letting go.
IF YOU GO:“Detroit” runs though March 16 at the Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. Tickets are $31-$47. (619) 544-1000.