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Lisa D’Amour said the play, Detroit, contains “a general anxiety…about what it means to be a middle class American.” She also referred to her penchant for “dreams and dream logic,” and a chance for theatre audiences to free associate images and themes, even if they do not know what they mean. As the author of this perplexing play currently onstage at San Diego Repertory Theatre, D’Amour should know what it means. Perhaps she does, or did, but the gist gets lost in this problematic production.

There are at least several reasons for that misplaced significance. The storyline is one of them. On its surface, the plot revolves around two couples in an older suburban neighborhood who discover their differences and mutual longings through backyard barbeque conversations that include relating their weird dreams over iced tea.

Mary and Ben serve as the traditional middle class pair who struggle with Ben’s recent joblessness and attempts to begin a financial advising business. When Sharon and Kenny, a free-spirited duo who met in rehab, move in next door, traditions become the underpinnings, even the foundations, of the quartet’s telescoped life journey.

Some conventions, such as those about neighborliness, appear at first to be bedrock. Kenny fixes the dodgy screen door. Ben offers gratis financial planning to the new kids on the block. Mary and Ben have the new folks over the fence to dinner; Sharon and Kenny reciprocate. The new friends ally against a nasty neighbor who accuses the canine-free hippy couple of allowing their pooch to poop on her lawn. (A pair of golden shears should cut that doggy thread, for it serves no real purpose and muddles the action.)

Suddenly, though, the customs of camaraderie prove problematic, even disastrous, as both individuals and couples influence each other for the worse until, finally, the whole thing just blows up.

Why that happens and what significance the entire matter contains should become clear by the end. It doesn’t.

The Obie Award and Pulitzer Prize committees must have found the play less baffling, one hopes, as the former awarded Detroit the 2013 Best New American Play honor, and it was a Pulitzer finalist. But there is little resolution for Rep audiences, even when Frank, the long-time resident down the block, shows up to give a bit of history and context.

Part of that deficiency has to belong to the play’s director, Sam Woodhouse, who either lets or encourages the actors to play so over-the-top that the result is audience exhaustion. Summer Spiro’s Sharon is a kinetic body of energy that forces her colleagues to overact just to avoid getting lost in the vortex. We get it that Sharon is hyper from the first time she tosses off a monologue about the dearth of neighborliness in our times. But she needs to stop imitating cartoon Taz for a few moments to let the story in. Jeffrey Jones as Kenny could serve as a bit of calm in the storm, but his maniacal laughter and seemingly clueless infatuation with his wife leaves little space for growth or value. Lisel Gorell-Getz’ Mary is not happy and certainly not a happy drunk, but she comes across as a one-dimensional harridan rather than a soul in turmoil. Her hapless hubby, Ben, played with as much restraint as possible in this whirligig platform by Steve Gunderson, could be both the comic relief and serious seeker that would offer some respite and resolution. But he is overshadowed by all the motion and commotion.

The final backyard barbeque reaches past the height of any kind of arc, mostly because it goes on way too long. The police should have been called hours ago.

Nevertheless, there are some bright moments. D Martyn Bookwalter’s revolving set makes easy transitions between suburban backyard place, and Jeannie Galioto’s no-nonsense costumes capture the 2008 time. Sharon’s spot-on imitation of Mary’s ostentatious appetizer platter is a highlight. The first few get-acquainted scenes showcase both the apprehensions and the fascinations of making new friends of the folks who live next door. Frank’s tale of familial discord seems plausible and reasonable, thanks to Robert Benedetti’s evenhanded demeanor, and it puts some of the preceding chaos into perspective. But it is not enough.

Perhaps there is comfort in questions. What is a neighborhood? Which is better, homogeneity or diversity? What is reality? The past? A dream? A memory? All or none of the above? If mystery and a choose-a-meaning-that-works-for-you purpose is the playwright’s ultimate point, well, it’s been taken.

Detroit continues on The Lyceum Space stage at San Diego Repertory Theatre through March 16. Performances are: Tues-Weds and Sun at 7 pm.; Thurs-Sat at 8 pm. Sat & Sun matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $18-47, with discounts for groups, seniors, and military. Reservations online at or by phone at (619) 544-1000.



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.