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May 9, 2017 12:27 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Staged Reading Of 'Detroit' To Be Presented Free At Guild Hall On May 16

May 9, 2017 12:59 PM

It’s a good thing Guild Hall has proper soundproofing.

Two Saturdays ago, young ballerinas danced across the John Drew Theater stage in Hampton Ballet Theatre School’s production of “Cinderella,” as their parents watched adoringly from the theater’s signature blue seats.

And just a few doors away, in the Boots Lamb Education Center, five actors sat around a table working through a script—oftentimes screaming obscenities at each other at the top of their lungs.

It was their first go at Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” which will stage as a reading on Tuesday, May 16, as part of the works-in-progress JDT Lab series, according to lead artist Chloë Dirksen.

“We saw kids dancing in and out through the stage door, it was super cute. We’d go into the bathroom and there’d be adorable little kids,” the actor said. “But fortunately, that place is very well built because this play, there’s a lot of yelling, there’s cursing, there’s big, over-the-top moments. So we didn’t have to be like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t yell, “F---!” because there are a million kids going pee in the bathroom beside me.’”

She laughed, adding, “It’s definitely very adult. You shouldn’t bring your kids.”

On the surface, the play seems innocent enough—the picture of perfect suburban America. Mary and Ben, portrayed by Ms. Dirksen and Rob DiSario, decide to host their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny, portrayed by Joanna Howard and J.Stephen Brantley, for a friendly barbecue in their backyard. The couples seem to bond at first, but as more details about their lives emerge, the afternoon and their newfound relationship quickly unravel.

“It’s called ‘Detroit,’ but the playwright makes it clear in her notes, this doesn’t necessarily happen in Detroit. It’s set in the suburbs in America, so she’s using Detroit as the metaphor for the decaying middle class,” Ms. Dirksen said. “This is a suburb that was built in the 1950s, when a lot of these mid-sized cities were doing well. It was the idea of the American Dream. But this play is set in the present day, when the American Dream is slipping away, and maybe they’re searching for something that doesn’t exist anymore.”

For Ms. Dirksen’s character, Mary, “She’s so great. She’s so lost. She’s trying so hard to be happy and to be okay and to be accepted and liked,” Ms. Dirksen said. “But it’s really hard for her to understand why she’s not happy because she’s doing everything she’s supposed to do. I think life is just a struggle. Everything she does is really off-putting in a way. You see people like this, right? We all know people like this, who you know are trying really hard but they’re missing something. They can’t figure out what it is.

“And I think what it is, is when you really don’t know who you are and what you really want, and you don’t have any kind of self-esteem or understanding of your motives or your actions,” she continued. “There’s no way you’re going to be happy. You have no path to happiness if you’re chasing it, or looking at what other people are doing.”

Since Ms. L’Amour wrote the play in 2010, the United States has seen a shift—particularly in the past year, Ms. Dirksen pointed out. But the central themes are still timely and relevant, she said.

It is a study of how people feel the need to present themselves in a way that has nothing to do with who they really are, she said. It is a look at how people keep secrets from not only each other, but themselves.

It is a story that feels so distinctly American, she said.

“Why do we feel we need to be this idea of suburban perfection? Where does that come from and where is that taking us?” she posed. “When you look at statistics about how many Americans are living in debt—huge debt, people who have these massive mortgages—you realize these kinds of things are normal in our society. We’re a culture that lives so far beyond our means, and for what? It’s for things that we don’t need: a bigger house, a fancier car, you name it.

“It’s living a life that is not authentic, or not even true to our own basic needs, our emotional needs,” she continued. “I think it’s important for us to ask those questions and, hopefully, it’s why we consume theater and novels and stories—to really look at ourselves and our motivations.”

A staged reading of “Detroit,” starring Chloë Dirksen, Joanna Howard, J.Stephen Brantley, Rob DiSario and Terry Fiore, will take place on Tuesday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Admission is free, but reservations are required. For more information, call 631-324-0806, or visit guildhall.org.

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