‘Detroit’ questions and reflects contemporary American life

Since 1929, the Playshop at Allegheny College has produced a plethora of works from classical playwrights like Shakespeare and Coward, to contemporary writers such as Tina Howe and Caryl Churchill, according to the Allegheny College website. Currently, four plays are produced through the Playshop every year and students from all majors and minors are welcome to audition, according to Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies Mark Cosdon.

Cosdon is directing the contemporary work “Detroit” from Thursday, April 12 through Sunday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at the Glady’s Mullenix Black Theatre in the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts. The play reflects modern America in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008, according to Cosdon.

“Her [D’Amour’s] work ‘Detroit’ is shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize in drama,” Cosdon said. “The Pulitzer represents and demonstrates an American play which captures the current moment, and I think that ‘Detroit’ absolutely does that.”

At the same moment, drug addiction levels began to spike in cities across the nation, according to Cosdon. The four main characters in “Detroit” face these issues many define as “suburban angst.”

“It’s about a couple, Ben and Mary, who live in what’s called a first-ring suburb,” Cosdon said. “There were places in the immediate aftermath of the second world war; these were suburbs that were created largely under the impulse of trying to quickly and efficiently house returning war veterans as the cities were burgeoning.”

Another couple, Kenny and Sherryn, move in next door and become acquainted with Ben and Mary, according to Cosdon. As both duos recover from their past addictions and economic hardships, audiences see four characters in contemporary America that strive for change as they live everyday lives.

Cayla Brandon, ’20, plays Sherryn and offers insight into her character.

“I’ve kind of attempted to create a realistic character who is loveable, despite all of her flaws,” Brandon said. “She is somebody who doesn’t really know herself. She doesn’t really have a consistency with her personality, she hasn’t really found her groove yet … She has some complicated ways of viewing the world as well.”

The characters are portrayed as ordinary people, and that is something Mark Shimkets, ’19, had to get used to playing the character Ben.

“Ben has been the most normal character I’ve ever had to play,” Shimkets said. “Ben is a character that is essentially living the life of what you expect as an American. You work a job, make money, use that money to buy things. You buy these material things and you enjoy life.”

Along with Brandon and Shimkets, Simon Brown, ’19, plays Kenny and Marina Varvaro, ’20, portrays Mary.

“As a director, it was a joy over about five to six weeks to see these students who would come to rehearsal every night and would work in a way that was revealing, vulnerable, they would push each other,” Cosdon said, “encourage each other, experiment consistently but always working towards making this play grow.”

Overall, “Detroit” is a play that is relevant, funny and presents a number of issues that typical Americans face in their day-to-day lives, according to Cosdon. He wants spectators to recognize the societal importance that the play brings to light, but also to appreciate the student talent that make the production possible and successful.

“I hope audiences will revel in both the importance of what this play presents that has thrilled and challenged audiences across the nation,” Cosdon said. “But also will marvel, yet again, at what Allegheny students are capable of doing.”