Backyard barbecue goes wild in ‘Detroit’

Like the old guy who appears as a minor character at the end of “Detroit,” a 2009 comedy now in its Bay Area premiere at Aurora Theatre Company, some of us remember the suburban backyard barbecues and placid lifestyle of mid-20th-century America.

Playwright Lisa D’Amour sets that nostalgic vision up against a sort of modern-day hyperreality in her depiction of a relationship that evolves between two couples in an unnamed neighborhood that could be in Detroit — the city so emblematic of our country’s economic collapse — or anyplace else in America.

When a seemingly secure, middle-class couple, Mary (an intently focused, elegantly detailed performance by Amy Resnick) and Ben (a hearty but too broad Jeff Garrett), invite the new, younger next-door neighbors over for a welcoming barbecue, things feel slightly ominous from the beginning.

For one thing, there’s the series of physical mishaps: The sliding glass door (in Mikiko Uesugi’s spare, effective backyard set) is stuck. The umbrella over the patio table collapses on guest Kenny’s head. Mary has a painful plantar wart. Later, Ben trips and breaks his ankle.

And there’s a whole chain of inappropriate comments, awkward silences, sobbing meltdowns and hysterical rants signaling trouble ahead.

The fact that newcomers Sharon (played with buoyant charm by Luisa Frasconi) and Kenny (Patrick Kelly Jones, brooding and slightly dangerous) turn out to be recovering addicts with no furniture at all; that Kenny recently was fired from his warehouse job; that their idea of appetizers is Cheez Whiz and Saltines (white trash food since she herself is white trash, Sharon says merrily) whereas Mary and Ben’s is caviar and gourmet pink salt; makes the older couple wonder who exactly these people are.

But loan officer Ben was himself laid off and now claims to be spending every minute creating a website to start his own consulting business.

And Mary has substance abuse issues of her own.
In fact, all four characters are not quite who they at first appear to be. And the bond that develops between the two couples, beyond its implications of the decline of middle-class financial stability, is almost dream-like, inevitable. In fact, the couples appear in each other’s dreams.

“When you’re at zero anything can happen!” proclaims Sharon during a long drunken dancing scene that’s quite mesmerizing. “It’s like total possibility!”

In D’Amour’s scenario, so astutely directed by Josh Costello, surprising things do indeed happen, and they’re funny and horrifying.

Where: Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7p.m. Sundays; extended through July 26
Tickets: $32 to $50
Contact: (510) 843-4822,

Jean Schiffman

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