Comedy-drama probes how to cope with fiscal snags

 [Woody’s Rating: ★★★☆☆

Kenny, Mary, Sharon and Ben (from left, Patrick Kelly Jones, Amy Resnick, Luisa Frasconi and Jeff Garrett) cavort at wild barbecue in “Detroit.” Photo by David Allen.

Ben (Jeff Garrett) and Sharon (Luisa Frasconi) discuss their dreams in “Detroit.” Photo by David Allen.

Instead of “Detroit,” playwright Lisa D’Amour might have named her Pulitzer Prize finalist play “Metaphor, California.”

Or “Metaphor, New York.”

Or, for that matter, “Metaphor, Anywhere.”

The title surely doesn’t signify the real Motor City. It’s  — dare I say it? — just a metaphoric label for a play that’s a comedic depiction of the fiscal scars the Great Recession left on the suburban middle class American psyche.

D’Amour says she used Detroit because it had become “a symbol to so many people of the American dream drying up.”

That resonates with me.

Seeing a revival of the Obie winner at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley could seem like witnessing a 100-minute intermission-less dream left too long on a backyard barbecue.

But with more levity than most comedies I’ve watched in several years.

I do have one caveat: None of it sounds funny in print.

And “Detroit” does rank high on my Squirmometer, a personal indicator of how uncomfortable dialogue or characters make me.

Ben (a wide-eyed, slack-jawed Jeff Garrett) has lost his bank loan officer’s job and appears to be toiling feverishly on a website that will launch a startup. Mary (an ultra-solemn, fuming Amy Resnick), his wife, drinks too heavily (to the point of upchucking on a new neighbor) and hobbles because of a painful planters wart on her foot and an even more agonizing burr on her being.

He bemoans accurately that they “don’t have any friends.”

To say their home and lives are broken is to state the obvious.

A big table umbrella unexpectedly shuts on folks beneath it. A sliding screen door won’t open or close properly. A patio chair falls apart.

Financial woes have pushed them way out of their comfort zone.

Still they want to be neighborly so they invite to dinner a pair of rootless recovering addicts who might never have had a comfort zone.

Kenny (Patrick Kelly Jones), who shamelessly admits they have only one towel too dirty to use, and Sharon Luisa Frasconi), who wants “to own up to what I am” — white trash, are a problematic mirror of the older couple’s unease.

As they unveil each other’s secrets, Kenny and Sharon flip the invitation, welcoming Ben and Mary to their digs despite having zero furniture and an equal amount of food (unless you count chips and Velveeta).

Though all four actors do bang-up jobs delineating their characters, Resnick and Garrett radiate, perhaps because their verbiage-laden roles are meatier.

Director Josh Costello effectively stages both antics and melodrama, sharply pulling into focus the question of how we cope with our insecurities when we can’t pay our bills.

The comedy-drama returned my memory to the first home I purchased, a suburban Philadelphia prototype in southern New Jersey created by William Levitt, a man renowned for developing instant all-white ticky-tacky communities out of whole cloth, identical blueprints and tiny plots.

I recalled, too, all the trappings that came with the tract houses.

Which included white picket fences, green lawns, good schools and clothes washed in 99 and 44/100ths percent pure Ivory soap.

But the play impacted my opening night companion more.

Although he viewed it as a flimsy farce and melodrama “rather than something to be considered seriously,” revolving around “unreal characters” he never grew to care about, he somehow let two BART trains pass him by while pondering the significance of “Detroit.”

A lingering, disturbing query: Have we all been living out the Rise and Fall of the American Empire?

Could be.

“Detroit” runs at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, through July 26. Night performances, Tuesdays, 7 p.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees, Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $16-$50. Information: 1-510-843-4822 or

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