By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
There's hardly anything more enjoyable in live theater in this town than watching Kitchen Dog's leading lady Tina Parker perform an onstage emotional meltdown. In her latest role, co-starring in Lisa D'Amour's dark comedy Detroit, Parker is in maximum meltdown mode playing Mary, a nervous paralegal married to gangly laid-off loan officer Ben (Ira Steck).
Ben and Mary's house, a decent two-story with new siding, a patio and a sliding door that sticks, sits in a 50-year-old subdivision in a "first-ring suburb," as it says in the program notes. The city could be Detroit. Or Dallas. Any good-sized burg whose once-comfortable residents now are bruised from economic setbacks and devalued real estate.
Backing up to Ben and Mary's place is a rundown home newly occupied by Sharon and Kenny (Jenny Ledel and Jeremy Schwartz, both good at being jumpy and trashy). The younger couple, renting from a relative, have no furniture and barely have jobs. Fresh out of rehab for recovery from, as Sharon puts it, "a glossy motorcade of substances," they're not quite getting by on minimum-wage gigs.
Over a series of backyard cookouts that turn progressively rowdier, the couples get friendly. One by one they injure themselves. Mary hobbles around on a painful plantar wart. Ben hurts his leg falling through Kenny's shoddily built deck. Sharon and Kenny both fall off the wagon.
Detroit is a superbly constructed 100-minute play, a 2011 Pulitzer finalist directed for KDT by company member Tim Johnson. Each scene is built around the awkward tension among four characters afraid of ending up worse off than they already are. The drinking, flirting and arguing will remind you of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Imagine Bridesmaids actress Melissa McCarthy as Martha in that one and you get a pretty good idea of how sad and fall-down funny Parker is as Mary in Detroit. Not as bitter as Martha, at least not yet, but just as much of a mess, especially after draining another plastic tumbler of vodka.
A fifth character (played by H. Francis Fuselier) wanders in late in the action to muse poetically about how the old neighborhood used to be, back when there was a duck pond and pavilion. Now there are bulldozers and cracked pavement. Set designer Clare Floyd DeVries gives us just enough landscape to imagine what's beyond the shared backyards where Mary and Ben and Sharon and Kenny stumble between their houses across a wide swath of dried grass. This excellent production casts its audience as curious voyeurs, watching two sets of screwed-up neighbors go at it from a safe remove.