Laurie Metcalf Shines in Steppenwolf’s “Detroit”

Hey suburbanites, listen up! The sliding doors to the backyard barely open and the patio is uneven. Plus, since human nature is the same everywhere, even beyond the city limits there are—surprise!—human problems.

That’s what Lisa D’Amour‘s new play, “Detroit,” which opened at Steppenwolf  Saturday, Sept. 18, is trying to tell us, though her method is certainly heavy-handed. It starts out innocently enough. A suburban couple, Ben and Mary, Ian Barford and Laurie Metcalf, have invited a young couple who just moved into the long-unoccupied house next door over for a cookout.

The younger pair, Ken and Sharon, played by Kevin Anderson and Kate Arrington, soon reveal that they met in a rehabilitation program for substance abusers. And Ben and Mary are candid about the fact that his unemployment insurance is running out and he is nowhere near starting the great new business he has envisioned with the help of an expensive inspirational manual. Meanwhile Mary, now the sole breadwinner, turns out to be an alcoholic, who is both frightened and angry about her husband’s indolence.

Steppenwolf’s theme this year is public/private selves and aims to explore our need to be known and our fear of telling too much. This drama unfolds in a series of episodes, running 90-minutes with no intermission, in which the interaction between the couples goes from bad to worse.

The performances, directed by Austin Pendleton, are marvelous. Metcalf is delightfully over the top, first wearing a nervous smile then shouting and jumping about like a madwoman. She is a superb actress and can make a statement just by narrowing her eyes.

Barford is a fine foil for her hyperactivity, while Anderson’s good-natured, streetwise addict—of course he and his girl fall off the wagon with a thud—doesn’t have a false note. The lovely Kate Arrington, who was the star in Steppenwolf’s “Parallelogram” this summer, mined the comedy in the unstable, clueless Sharon.

All the actors and the director are members of the Steppenwolf ensemble and Metcalf was a founding member of the company.

“Detroit” runs at the Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, through Nov. 7. For tickets, visit Parking is just $10 in the Steppenwolf lot and garage next door.