REVIEW: ‘Detroit’ at the Hilberry

Left to right: Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), Kenny (David Sterritt), Mary (Vanessa Sawson), & Ben (Joe Plambeck).Photo: Felix Li

Left to right: Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), Kenny (David Sterritt), Mary (Vanessa Sawson), & Ben (Joe Plambeck).
Photo: Felix Li

Reviewed by: Sue Suchyta, Deaborn Times-Herald

Click HERE to read the review on the Times-Herald website.

The Hilberry Theatre opened the new year with the Michigan premiere of Detroit, a Pulitzer Prize finalist play by Lisa D’Amour. The show runs through April 5 in rotating repertory. For dates and show times, call 313-577-2972 or go to

Set in the first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit, the story unfolds as Ben and Mary invite their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny, to a backyard barbecue. As the couples get to know each other, we begin to see the stressors affecting their lives: under- and unemployment, personal shortcomings and relationship weaknesses.

The very talented cast includes Joe Plambeck as Ben, Vanessa Sawson as Mary, David Sterritt as Kenny and Danielle Cochrane as Sharon, with Edmund Alyn Jones making a cameo appearance as Frank.

The actors bring their characters to life so realistically you almost feel like you are eavesdropping on private conversations. As the rough edges of their personalities emerge, one begins to wonder which of the characters’ positive and negative personality traits will exert the most influence on the story’s outcome.

Kudos to Cochrane for the high level of energy she maintains in her portrayal of Sharon. Sawson, a third-year company member, continues to show why she is an audience favorite with her strong, believable performance and the wide range of emotions she so ably conveys. Plambeck and Sterritt capably create flawed yet sympathetic characters as well.

The technical design shines as well. Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s scenic design incorporates a backdrop of “ruin porn” – monochromatic silhouettes of Detroit’s most recognizable urban decay. The actual set – a pair of backyards and single-family homes that take on a life of their own – are so remarkable that to reveal the vital role they play in the show would be a plot spoiler.

Samuel Byers’ sound design captures neighborhood nuances so well you initially wonder why you hear children’s voices in the theater, and whether the distant wail of sirens is real or recreated.

Heather DeFauw capably meets the show’s lighting design challenges, which, like the set design, would be a plot spoiler to reveal.

While you may not love the characters or even the storyline, the show’s production values are top-notch, from the superb acting to the strong technical design and execution. It mirrors our times and city, and if it makes audiences uncomfortable or makes them think, then it has achieved its goal.

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