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'Detroit' review: A tale of two patios

Darren Pettie and David Schwimmer in Lisa D'Amour's

Darren Pettie and David Schwimmer in Lisa D'Amour's "Detroit," at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan. Credit: Jeremy Daniel

'Detroit" is surely one of the most willfully irrelevant titles for yet-another dissection of Suburban Subdivision, Anyplace, USA.

Nor is the title the only curveball in Lisa D'Amour's thoughtful but not exactly thought-provoking drama, which was a 2011 Pulitzer finalist with successful runs at Chicago's Steppenwolf and in London with a different director and cast.

Staged here by Anne Kauffman, with a fine cast including David Schwimmer and Amy Ryan, the 145-minute one-act feels long, with heavy splatters of emotional foreshadowing and with familiar sitcom exchanges between two neighboring couples. There is a strong epilogue, delivered with trenchant, tangy melancholy by John Cullum, which does click some of the play's mysteries deftly into a time, after World War II, when the hopes for these housing developments were high.

But we are still left with hanging chunks of the play -- one character's ongoing plantar wart, a deadly warning about another's caviar allergy -- that make us feel jerked around as the style gets surreal and primal, especially when these issues are simply dropped. As one of the new neighbors who supposedly met in abuse rehab says she heard in therapy, "They say our old lives would feel like real life, and real life would feel like a dream." We are meant to remember that line.

Schwimmer and Ryan start out as the couple with what appears to be ordinary disappointments and ambitions. She works as a paralegal but yearns to live in the woods. He was laid off as a loan officer and spends his days setting up his "dream business" -- as financial analyst -- on his own website.

They invite the new neighbors (Sarah Sokolovic and Darren Pettie) for a barbecue on the patio of their deteriorating but treasured subdivision house with the sliding door that sticks and the umbrella that won't stay up. The new couple has no furniture, but has an appealing wild side and hopes of a lower-middle class future. One couple is stuck. The other is rootless.

Action toggles between the two patios -- impressively swiveled on turntables in Louisa Thompson's increasingly spectacular set. But sounds of scratching insects between the scenes just remind us how much deeper "Twin Peaks" went beneath the pastoral surfaces and how this message about "ticky tacky" little houses was Pete Seeger's 1963 elegy to prefab subdivisions before "Weeds" took it global -- that is, even farther than Detroit.WHAT "Detroit"

WHERE Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

INFO $70-$75; 212-279-4200;

BOTTOM LINE A fine cast in a sitcom mixed with grandiosity.


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