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‘Detroit’ challenges theatergoers’ perceptions of themselves, their world

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer

Sometimes it's not enough for a piece of theater to entertain. Sometimes, it has to show you something, maybe even show you yourself.

Tyler Eldridge and Marlette Carter say that's what "Detroit" is trying to do — hold a mirror up to typical Americans living in a typical neighborhood and maybe remind them of the world they inhabit.

Eldridge and Carter star in Appalachian Artists Collective's production of the Lisa D'Amour play, which opens today at the Alban Arts Center in St. Albans.

"How many of us really know our neighbors?" Elderidge asked. "Nobody really talks to their neighbors any more."

And because we don't talk, we don't know.

"Detroit" follows an afternoon with two couples in a small, suburban neighborhood that doesn't actually have to be Detroit, Michigan, but could be anywhere, USA. Ben and Mary are an established couple with mid-level, middle-class jobs who invite Kenny and Sharon, the new neighbors from next door over, for a backyard barbecue.

Kenny and Sharon aren't middle-class. The couple met in rehab and don't have jobs. They have no furniture in the house they're renting.

Ben and Mary aren't doing as well as they seem, though.

The two couples clash and come together in the dark comedy that explores middle class anxieties: money, social angst and worries about downward mobility.

Carter, who plays Mary, said, "The dialogue in this play is very strong. Lisa D'Amour writes in the way we speak. It's very natural."

"But also coarse and funny," said Elderidge, who plays Kenny. "You have two couples. One is very stand-up and everything is about appearances, how they look to everyone. Then you have this other couple that's struggling and just trying to get on their feet."

"Both couples have their issues," Carter said. "Mary is an alcoholic. She's someone we all know: very nice, but you realize that she never has a sober moment."

The couples have common ground, but Elderidge said there's a disconnect.

"Detroit" is supposed to entertain. There are plenty of laughs and some absurd situations, but the play is also supposed to make audience members consider their own circumstances and maybe their own neighborhood.

Elderidge, who thinks of himself as more of a comedic actor, said he was encouraged to take on this play as a way to stretch his skills.

"It's kind of a roller coaster for everybody," he said. "But its very much like life; it feels very real."

Carter, who is frequently one of the people behind the scenes in theater productions, said she was glad to be part of this show, particularly because it's not the kind of show that is often available, and perhaps even less so since the demise of Charleston Stage Company.

"I hadn't really tackled a large role in several years," she said. "I've been doing administration, and the opportunity to do some compelling theater, I jumped at it. It was joyous."

The themes in "Detroit" are serious and mature.

"Theater is constantly evolving," Carter said. "It's constantly holding up that mirror to society's values and redefining itself."

"It's definitely something different," Eldridge said.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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