REVIEW: ‘Marat/Sade’ crowns the Hilberry Theatre’s 50th season

Reviewed by Patty Nolan, The Examiner

Read the review on the Examiner Website.

Join the Facebook Event or view our photo album!

The Lunatics have arrived. Left to Right - Back row: Ty Mithcell, David Sterritt, Vanessa Sawson Middle row: Rahbi Hammond, Megan Dobbertin, Brandon Grantz Front row: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Maggie Beson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Sarah Hawkins Moan Credit: Kevin Replinger

The Lunatics have arrived.
Left to Right – Back row: Ty Mitchell, David Sterritt, Vanessa Sawson
Middle row: Rahbi Hammond, Megan Dobbertin, Brandon Grantz
Front row: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Maggie Beson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Sarah Hawkins Moan
Credit: Kevin Replinger

In its final production of the milestone 50th season, the Hilberry Theatre is currently staging the extraordinary Tony Award-winning play, “Marat/Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade)” by Peter Weiss. Although this show is decidedly NOT a musical, it deploys dance and a fetching score by Richard Peaslee to more fully explore Weiss’s complex themes of revolution and individual nonconformity, mob hysteria and personal demons.

This brilliantly performed production of Marat/Sade is directed and choreographed by Matthew Earnest, who returns to the Hilberry after directing last season’s innovative “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Marat/Sade famously recreates events that occurred late in the French Revolution, in which Jean-Paul Marat (played by the commanding Edmund Alyn Jones), a champion of the poor and proponent of the guillotine solution, is murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday (the versatile Vanessa Sawson) a country girl disillusioned by the unending bloodshed. But this is much more than a mere history lesson. Weiss chose to set this story as a play within a play, performed – as the formal title suggests – by the inmates of an asylum under the direction of theMarquis de Sade (Joe Plambeck, in his most challenging role yet). As a point of historical fact, Sade – yes, the libertine who gave us the term “sadist” – was interred at Charenton following the revolution, and was allowed to direct dramatizations with the inmates under the authority of the benign Dr. Coulmier.

Written by Weiss in the 1960s, the play serves as a commentary on the nature of revolution and the meaning of freedom in a world that suppresses individuality in the name of ‘the people.’ In the play, the aloof Marquis de Sade and the fanatical Marat debate their opposing views on power, politics and insurrection.

In the play, Sade sums up his feelings by remarking, ““To me, the only reality is imagination; the world inside myself. The revolution no longer interests me.”

And the naughty Marquis’ vision is all brought to life by inmates whose maladies range from narcolepsy to nymphomania.

“I don’t think Marat/Sade deals extensively with the French Revolution,” Earnest explains. “I believe that Peter Weiss is reframing events and people from the time of the French Revolution to discuss his own time – the Cold War and the brutal, oppressive era of the Berlin Wall … I think we still struggle with individual liberties and the common good. People really are in control of their own destinies, and that’s what this play is about. It’s not a history lesson on the French Revolution any more than Macbeth is a history lesson on Scottish politics.”

This compelling production commands, deserves and rewards the audience’s full attention. The entire Hilberry company is to be congratulated on a powerful show that effortlessly pulls the viewer into its undertow of political anarchy and polarized political thought.

The cast includes: Alec Barbour (Kokol), Maggie Beson (Inmate), Miles Boucher (Holy Sister), Christopher Call (Holy Sister), Danielle Cochrane (Rossignol), Mackenzie Conn (Inmate), Megan Dobbertin (Simonne Evrard), Nancy Florkowski (Inmate), Brandon Grantz (Dupperet), Brent Griffith (Male Nurse), Rahbi Hammond (Inmate), Edmund Alyn Jones (Marat), Annie Keris (Cocurucu), Joshua Miller (Polpoch), Ty Mitchell (Inmate), Sarah Hawkins Moan (Inmate), Chelsea Ortuno (Inmate), Topher Payne (Herald), Joe Plambeck (Sade), Joshua Blake Rippy (Coulmier), Vanessa Sawson (Corday), and David Sterritt (Roux).

The production team includes: Matthew Earnest (Director), Veronica Zahn (Stage Manager), Courtney Rasor (Assistant Stage Manager), Christopher Hall (Music Composer), Pegi Marshall-Amundsen (Scenic Designer), Samuel G. Byers (Lighting Designer), Mary Leyendecker (Costume Designer), Heather DeFauw (Sound Designer), Kimbra Essex (Property Master), Michael Wilkki (Technical Director), and Patrick Pozezinski (Publicity Design).

“Marat/Sade” runs at the Hilberry Theatre through May 11, 2013, with 8 p.m. performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. performances on April 24, May 4, and May 11. See the website for the performance calendar. Tickets range from $12–$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online at, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

Lisa D’Amour’s ‘Detroit’ reopens tonight at 8:00 p.m

Detroit by Lisa D’Amour is back on stage this weekend, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.! Following Saturday night’s performance, Susan Mosey, President of Midtown Detroit, Inc., will host a special talkback for audience members. We hope to see you there! You can check out Midtown Detroit, Inc. on Facebook Here: The Official Midtown Detroit – University Cultural Center Association, or visit their website.

Mark you calendars because there are only six performances left before Detroit closes Friday, April 5. Check out production photos form Detroit or join the Facebook event!

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

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

Remaining Performances:

Thursday 8 p.m.         Mar. 28, Apr. 4
Friday 8 p.m.              Mar. 1, Apr. 5
Saturday 8 p.m.          Mar. 2, 23

REVIEW: ‘Detroit’ not the Detroit I know

Reviewed by Robert Delaney, Detroit New Monitor

Click HERE to read the review on the Encore Michigan’s website.

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

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

A middle class husband and wife find their life changing in unexpected ways after they reach out to the new couple that moves in next door in Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” which joined this season’s production at Wayne State’s Hilberry Theatre last month.

But don’t let the title mislead you into thinking this play has, well, anything to do with Detroit. While D’Amour did title it “Detroit,” it was apparently almost as an afterthought. Her indication of the setting was originally in a “first ring suburb” outside any mid-sized American city, according to the Hilberry’s press release. The Hilberry has changed this to: “The first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit.”

D’Amour herself has said about her choice of calling it “Detroit”: “Something about the way the name of tha city vibrates in the American imagination – that name evokes the kind of iconic anxiety around the crumbling American dream.”

First, I always thought we were a “big” city, not a “mid-sized” one. But be that as it may, I think a play entitled “Detroit” should actually have something to say about Detroit.

Back when I was a kid, I remember that Detroit was all but ignored on national television programs, and in the few cases when something was supposed to be taking place in Detroit, it was usually just shot on the studio’s back lot on a set that didn’t look anything like Detroit.

That was a half-century ago, but I remember thinking it was pretty crummy to treat the fifth-largest city in the country that way. We may no longer have that ranking, but Detroit is a real place that has its own character – and Detroit’s story deserves to be told.

One would think scenic designer Pegi Marshall Amundsen, at least, would have tried to make the set look Detroit-ish. I suppose she may have thought she was doing that by including the old Michigan Central Depot in the distant background, but what about making the two houses look something like the houses typical of some neighborhood – in the first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit”?

As to the plot, which sounds awfully reminiscent of Thomas Berger’s 1980 novel, “Neighbors,” which was made into a 1981 movie with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, I again fail to see much connection with Detroit.

None of this criticism, however, is meant to detract from the performance of the play. Director Lavinia Hart works with a fine group of grad-student actors in presenting the story.

Joe Plambeck and Venessa Sawson are Ben and Mary, the middle class couple. David Sterritt and Danielle Cochrane are Kenny and Sharon, the ever-stranger couple that moves in next door.

As the reckless wildness of Kenny and Sharon is released, Ben and Mary gradually succumb to the temptation to give in to their wilder urges. This doesn’t end well, and Edmund Alyn Jones comes in late in the play, as Frank, to deal with some of the consequences.

Amazingly, “Detroit” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, but then, I’m guessing the Pulitzer folks don’t know much about my city either.

SHOW DETAILS:“Detroit” continues in rotating repertory through April 5 at the Hilberry Theatre, at Cass and West Hancock on the WSU campus. For performance and ticket information, call 313-577-2972 or go to

Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Feb. 7, 2013

REVIEW: ‘Detroit’ sizzles onstage

Reviewed by: Alana Walker, The South End

Click HERE to read the review on The South End website.

Ben (Joe Plambeck)Photo Credit: Felix Lee

Ben (Joe Plambeck)
Photo Credit: Felix Lee

Interacting with neighbors, especially new ones, can be a challenge for anyone. Add on the fact that the new neighbors, who claim to be newly released from drug rehab, seem to be a little strange and possibly hiding something, the task of being neighborly can be a daunting one.

In Detroit by Lisa D’Amour, the lives of two unlikely couples become intertwined, allowing them to learn about themselves, their partners and the important things in life. The show, set in the first string of residential homes on Detroit’s outskirts, slowly reveals secrets as the two couples. Despite the title, the actual city of Detroit didn’t play a major role in the plot of the story. With only a few references to Detroit in the script, the play could be relatable to almost anyone.

In the beginning of the show, Ben (Joe Plambeck) and his wife Mary (Vanessa Sawson) seem to have it all together while new neighbors Kenny (David Sterritt) and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), who are renting the house from Frank (Edmund Alyn Jones), seem to be the complete opposite. The clash in personalities resulted in tense serious moments as well as some hilariously awkward moments throughout the show.

While the pacing of the show can seem a tad slow at some points, the sizzling dialogue is more than enough to keep the audience engaged, and the script eventually intensifies, resulting in scorching chemistry between the actors.

The show’s lead characters each had distinct and strong personalities, which require equally strong actors. All of the actors’ portrayals were engaging, believable and well developed, but perhaps the most impressive performances came from the ladies. Sawson and Cochrane both delivered compelling performances, bringing complexity and charm to their characters; Mary being a put-together wife with a suppressed wild side and Sharon, the strong free spirit.

The men’s performances were a refreshing compliment to their female counterparts. Their characters were both pure and elaborate, but above all, genuine. The differentiation of age and social classes between these two neighbors was undeniably evident through the acting, costume design and scenic design.

The realistic set was equipped with two undeniably accurate homes viewed from their backyard on both far sides of the stage; one very conservatively decorated, the other desolate and empty. Perched between the two houses was the dark skyline of the city. One of the most impressive things about the technical aspects of the show was the fact that the actors actually cooked steak on stage — this absolutely blew my mind. It’s something I’ve never seen before, and the sizzle, smoke and smell from a grill is something that can’t easily be duplicated. Because of the importance of the backyard grill to the characters, I think actually grilling on stage for that brief amount of time was such a great decision.

For those planning to see the show, expect nothing less than a vivid dark comedy with genuine characters and an attention-grabbing stage. The play runs until April 5 at the Hilberry Theatre.

Join the Facebook event!

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.

REVIEW: New play ‘Detroit’ misses the essence of Motown

Ben and Mary BLOG

Reviewd by: John Monaghan, Detroit Free Press January 17, 2013

Click HERE to read the review on the Free Press Website!

Though it’s titled “Detroit,” the new play at the Hilberry Theatre isn’t really about the Motor City.

Granted, a 2-liter bottle of Vernors appears in one scene, music by Eminem fills the space between acts, and interstates 94 and 696 get occasional shout-outs, but even playwright, Lisa D’Amour acknowledges that her dark comedy about two young couples who live next door to each other could easily have been set in a dozen other cities. (D’Amour had never even visited the Motor City before last year.)

That said, “Detroit” is an insightful, if sometimes long-winded, treatise on the way ordinary people deal with economic uncertainty and how they behave as neighbors in the 21st Century.

This is only the fourth production of “Detroit” in the play’s short history. It premiered in 2010 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and also played Off-Broadway last year at Playwrights Horizons in New York. Winning the opportunity to stage the Pulitzer Prize finalist was a coup for the Hilberry, Wayne State University’s graduate theater company, which is marking its 50th anniversary this season.

Though previous productions of the play were set in what D’Amour calls “a first-ring suburb,” the Hilberry staging moves the action into the city. Detroit’s skyline towers over a pair of brick bungalows, their backyards separated by a weathered chain link fence.

The play opens with a barbecue hosted by Ben (Joe Plambeck) and Mary (Vanessa Sawson), a stable married couple facing economic challenges. Ben has lost his job at the bank, and they’ve been scraping by on Mary’s salary as a paralegal. They’ve invited over new neighbors, Kenny (David Sterritt) and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), who just moved into a house belonging to Kenny’s uncle. Both are recovering drug addicts who are trying to hold on to their jobs and build something like the life Ben and Mary appear to have.

After that, not a lot happens in terms of plot. The four characters — and the audience — are mostly left to ponder questions: Will Ben get his financial planning website off the ground? Will Kenny and Sharon stay on the wagon? Will Sharon and Mary actually take that just-girls camping trip they keep talking about? Part of the message here involves responsibility and the way the two couples approach adulthood. The notion of children is introduced subtly, partly via Samuel G. Byers’ sound design that uses the voices of kids at play in the background.

The Hilberry team earns an A for effort in all departments. Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s set fashions familiar backyards and conjures a nifty bit of stage magic near the end that I wouldn’t dare spoil for you. Heather DeFauw’s lighting design beautifully evokes several times of day, as the show is set in both daylight and dark. (The two couples engage in a wild impromptu dance party once evening falls.) Veteran director Lavinia Hart does her best to make the show resonate with Detroiters, but doesn’t overplay local connections.

As Ben, Plambeck plays appropriately nice, though he grows confused when Sharon teases him about intonations in his voice that she swears must be British. This becomes a running gag in a show that is never exactly laugh-out-loud funny, though it earns some nods of audience recognition and amusement.

The reliable Sawson convincingly capture’s Mary’s marital and financial desperation, something that leads her to retreat into too many glasses of wine way too early in the afternoon. Her best scenes are opposite Cochrane’s free-spirited Sharon, the best and most animated member of the ensemble.

Less impressive is Sterritt’s Kenny, who never convinces us that he’s wrestling with the same demons as Sharon.

“Detroit,” which runs nearly two hours without intermission, builds to a satisfying and surprising climax, but then it overstays its welcome during a concluding diatribe from an old man (Edmund Allyn Jones) who goes on and on about the good old days in the couples’ neighborhood.

The speech captures everything I like and dislike about “Detroit.” It sort of gets at the essence of our fair city, but it leaves you hungry for something a little more Detroit-specific — a reference to working at an auto plant, maybe, or to shopping at the old downtown Hudson’s.


More Details: ‘Detroit’

* * *

out of four stars

Runs in rotating repertory through April 5

Hilberry Theatre

Wayne State University

4743 Cass Ave., Detroit



REVIEW: Downtown story shines with hometown view

Reviewed by: Carolyn Hayes, Encore Michigan January 12, 2013

Click HERE to read the review on the Encore Michigan Website

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

The hotly anticipated Michigan premiere of playwright Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit” has been the arguable crown of Hilberry Theatre’s 50th season. Bringing a Pulitzer Prize-finalist text to its namesake city for the first time comes with high expectations that hinge on doing justice to a city so thoroughly ridiculed, defamed, and – per its fierce advocates – misunderstood by the outside world. Here, under the direction of Lavinia Hart and bolstered by stellar designs and complex ensemble performances, this captivating production skillfully tells its encapsulated tragicomic story while also exploring representations of the city from without and within.

In a residential neighborhood just outside Downtown Detroit, longtime residents Ben and Mary (Joe Plambeck and Vanessa Sawson) welcome new neighbors Kenny and Sharon (David Sterritt and Danielle Cochrane) with sizzling steaks and inquisitive hospitality. The play exclusively traces the couples’ backyard friendship, which allows information to be released and withheld from the audience exactly as carefully as the characters do with each other. It’s a clean slate befitting the addicts in recovery, turning over a new leaf together, and the double-income couple recast on the fly as a single paycheck plus a budding Web entrepreneur. D’Amour lays out meticulous, incremental treads, and the production just as carefully follows, hiding the magnitude of the characters’ discoveries and relationship advances in the stumbling comedy of everyday conversation.

The proceedings are marked by prickling humor and barely perceptible foreboding that go hand in hand – repeated attempts to work a defective patio umbrella are either amusingly precarious or a dark symbol of making do when everything’s a little broken. Hart gamely dives into the script’s tempting layers, employing rampant physical humor while also gorging on subtext, and her cast more than ably follows through.

Opposite Plambeck’s effusive humor and warmly guileless outbursts, the tightly wound Sawson keeps up appearances, then holds forth in intoxicated trances. Although Sterritt stays pointed toward the straight and narrow with visible exertion, he also embraces Kenny’s irrationality with charming aplomb. The whirling, uninhibited Cochrane takes evident joy in demonstrating there’s no emotion she can’t grab onto and ride to the hilt.

The individual portraits are critical, but the ensemble work is what sells this subtle text, as the characters effortlessly trade beats of desperation and strength while the details of their lives unfold and spill over, each into the other. Themes of neighborly conduct and the closeness born of proximity are explored in fascinating depth, reinforced by a brief, wizened appearance by Edmund Alyn Jones.

D’Amour has attested that Detroit’s influence on the play is largely nominal; other than some peppered specificity, this could be any adjoining yard in any urban setting rebelling against decline. In this light, the question of how a native Detroit company appropriates an outsider’s work is worth examining, and the Hilberry design team answers with intrigue. Rather than submit to the potential scrutiny of attempted verisimilitude, the surroundings are loaded with approximations of the city, such as scenic designer Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s graffiti-inspired blighted skyline. The urge to claim Detroit without being of Detroit is also consciously addressed, most notably by designer Samuel G. Byers’ auditory cocktail of neighborhood sounds, electronic beats, and slyly deliberate tunes burbling tepidly from summer-barbecue speakers.

Yet at the same time, commingling details feel exactly on point, from Max Amitin’s abundance of edible props to costumer John D. Woodland’s pairing of tattoos and weathered Tigers gear. At times, the distinctiveness can be downright startling, as when lighting designer Heather DeFauw taps directly into an iconic bit of imagery. As a whole, the scheme speaks intelligently to the fractious continuum of Detroit’s perception by the uninformed masses compared with the realities known to its residents and devotees. The concept even extends to the theater lobby, where the Detroit Institute of Arts has installed a digital display entitled “Reveal Your Detroit,” in which photographs by professional and amateur contributors exhibit hundreds of ways to present and represent the city in all its facets.

Importantly, it’s worth noting that good watching is not always easy watching: There is more strong language and vulgarity here than in your typical Hilberry production, and viewers should prepare their brains and bladders for two hours of strict attention without an intermission. However, as in the wildly hilarious scene in which all of the, uh, profanity hits all of the fans, or in the darkly comic ravages of exaltation that too easily mistake recklessness for catharsis, the rewards are ample.

In all, Hart and company have taken a very young play from parts beyond, with all its attendant baggage, and brought it home in a wholly satisfying manner. Freed of embodying the absolute truth of a long-maligned city, the production is able to thrive as a compelling story shot through with familiarity, while also presenting a thoughtful exercise in interpretation and ownership. In embracing the conscious conundrum between authenticity and representation, this “Detroit” keeps the viewer mindful that theater is an art form, and this particular art is the stuff of masters.


SHOW DETAILS: “Detroit” plays in rotating repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through April 5. Running time: 2 hours; no intermission. Tickets: $12-$30. For information: 313-577-2972 or