Detroit A Play

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2011-09-13
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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In a "first ring" suburb outside a midsize American city, Ben and Mary fire up the grill to welcome the new neighbors who've moved into the long-empty house next door. The fledgling friendship soon veers out of control, shattering the fragile hold that newly unemployed Ben and burgeoning alcoholic Mary have on their way of lifewith unexpected comic consequences. Detroitis a fresh, offbeat look at what happens when we dare to open ourselves up to something new. After premiering at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre last year to rave reviews, Lisa D'Amour's brilliant and timely play moves to Broadway this fall.

Author Biography

Lisa D’Amour is an Obie Award–winning playwright and one half of PearlDamour, an interdisciplinary performance company she runs with Katie Pearl. Her work has been produced by theaters such as Steppenwolf Theatre, Children’s Theater Company, Clubbed Thumb, the Walker Arts Center, and the Kitchen. D’Amour received her MFA in playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin and currently splits her time between Brooklyn and New Orleans.

Table of Contents

“This scary-funny comedy . . . speaks to the fractious, frightened American moment more perceptively than any play I’ve seen on a New York stage.” Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
Detroit is a brilliantly observed piece of art about a particular time and place. That time is now—and by now I mean the current post-recessionary America. That place is a pair of backyards in the suburb of a great American city that has been rocked on its heels.” —Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune


DETROIT (Chapter One)Scene 1

Lights Up.

SHARON and KENNY are in MARY and BEN's backyard. They sit in newish-looking lawn chairs--part of a set from somewhere like Home Depot. MARY struggles to get a patio umbrella to go up as she speaks. It's in the middle of the table and it's heavy. There is a grill nearby.

MARY And the man with the birthmark looked up and slid a handwritten receipt across the table to me. He said, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" and I said no thank you and I turned and walked out onto the wooden pier and I saw a very old seagull swoop down into the water and eat a fish.

SHARON How did you know it was old?

MARY I just knew.

KENNY And the bank was an old card table on the edge of an abandoned boardwalk?

MARY And all the deposits went into an Adidas shoebox the banker kept under the table.

SHARON They make those shoes in Germany. I went there for a week on this high school trip and everyone wanted to buy them. We all thought they were cheaper over there. I didn't buy any.

MARY (under her breath) Shit. Shit shit shit.

KENNY Can I help you with that?

MARY No. I'll be right back.

MARY goes inside. KENNY and SHARON sit in the chairs in silence. They hardly even look at each other. The sounds we hear: birds. A lawn mower in the distance. A clanging sound, like someone fixing something. A siren that we hear and quickly fades. MARY comes out with BEN following her. BEN has a pan full of meat, some kind of steaks. MARY is kind of in a tizzy.

MARY I hold it up and I press the button, but nothing works. Sometimes it stays for like two seconds, but then it falls down again.

BEN fools with the umbrella. They all watch. He pulls his hands away. The umbrella stays up. Pause.

BEN Wa-lah.

SHARON laughs just a couple of laughs. No one else laughs.

MARY It's funny, when you first moved in, we didn't know if anyone was actually living next door. Ben swore he saw someone coming and going. But at weird times. And the sheets stayed up for so long it still looked empty. It was driving him crazy! So when I saw you yesterday morning, I knew I had to grab you and tell you that we didn't know you were there, that's why we didn't stop by to say hello.

SHARON We're still not totally moved in. The house belongs to his aunt.

KENNY Belonged to my aunt. She passed away.

MARY Oh, that was your aunt?

KENNY We're renting it for a while before they sell.

SHARON We'll probably buy it, though.

BEN That's the way to do it, from a friend or family member. You can avoid a lot of closing costs.

KENNY That's what they say.

SHARON So yes, it's a new start! I mean, we don't have any furniture even!

MARY Oh, everybody says that--"We don't have any furniture."

KENNY Well--

BEN There are some good outlet stores over on 265. That's where I got my TV chair.

MARY Oh wait. I've got something!

MARY goes inside. She has a little trouble with the sliding glass door. She is just inside the house, so she can call back to the group.

SHARON Such a great backyard.

MARY (calling from inside) Isn't it great?

BEN Thanks, we love it. It sold us on the neighborhood.

SHARON Hey, who is the woman who jogs around the neighborhood in the hot pink jogging outfit?

MARY What?

SHARON Who is the woman who jogs around the neighborhood in the hot pink jogging outfit?

MARY I don't know. I've never seen her. Ben, have you seen this woman? Jogging?

BEN No, I don't think so. There are a lot of people jogging in the morning.

SHARON This one wears a hot pink jogging suit.

MARY is back at the door, carrying a coffee table, trying to get it through the door.

MARY I don't know. I don't know who that is.

KENNY Wait, wait let me help.

MARY Oh god, this door!

KENNY Hold on, I've got it. I've got it.

KENNY brings the coffee table through the door. It is an older model, kind of heavy and clunky, possibly with a glass top. MARY puts the coffee table down in front of SHARON.

MARY This is for you.


MARY You said you didn't have any furniture. So this is for you.

BEN Honey, that's our coffee table.

MARY I hate this coffee table. Do you like it?

KENNY Uh, yeah, it's nice. Do you like it?

MARY I mean, it's a good coffee table. It's very sturdy. I think it will be good for you. I just--

SHARON I love it. (pause) Thank you.

MARY It's for you.

SHARON I know. It's amazing.

SHARON half touches the coffee table.

MARY Now Ben has to buy me a new table! Ha-ha!

BEN Ha-ha.

SHARON sits and indicates the coffee table to KENNY, like "nice, table right?" BEN speaks kind of loud.

BEN All right, everybody. I'm going to throw these puppies on the grill!


SHARON and KENNY giggle at their private joke. MARY speaks to BEN.

MARY Did you do the marinade? (she takes a step, and something hurts in her foot) Ow!

SHARON half gets up from her chair.

SHARON Are you okay?

MARY Yes, no. Ow. It's fine, I just have this, well, I have this oh god plantars wart in the bottom of my foot. God, so embarrassing, but do you know what that is? This is a really nasty, yes, wart that grows upward, into your foot, slowly, so it takes you a while to notice it, and when you finally do, it hurts hurts hurts and you try to put that drugstore wart remover stuff on it and it won't work, and so you go to the doctor--I went to the doctor, I went to the doctor today--and he said he could cut it out, but he would have to inject anesthesia into my foot and then do minor surgery--I know--and since I knew you all were coming over, I thought it would be best to wait, so I'm having it done next Thursday and just making do until then. It is only when I step a certain way...it must hit a nerve or something.

KENNY Like when you have a cavity?

SHARON Oh right, and you bite down on ice or something soft like an apple that goes way up?

KENNY Or like a caramel candy.

MARY And start chewing everything supercautiously, like half chewing because you're afraid of that zap and then one day you forget and you bite regular--

Everybody kind of groans and cringes.

BEN Okay okay, let's not--eew--now you've given me the creeps.

KENNY Let's talk about something else.

MARY Yes, let's. Sorry, let's.

BEN So where do you guys work?

KENNY I work in a warehouse over off of 694.

SHARON I work in a phone bank. Is that what you call it? It's like customer service. I sit in one of the booths, take the calls, and either give people answers or send them on to the supervisor.

MARY Oh that sounds interesting.

SHARON Really?

MARY I work as a paralegal at Furley, Clark and Lamb.

KENNY What do you do, Ben?

BEN Ha-ha. I'm a deadbeat. No but really, I got laid off my job at this bank. I was a loan officer, and they like laid everybody off like literally. I don't know who is doing the work anymore. And so they gave me this like halfway decent severance pay and also I could get unemployment, so I am using it as an opportunity to set up my own business.

MARY He's home all day.

BEN It's a financial planning business. Helping people with their credit scores, that sort of thing.

SHARON Ha! We could use that help!

BEN You and a lot of people. It can slip so fast.

SHARON And then you can't get it back up again.

BEN Well, there are strategies, but it takes a lot of patience. We can have a session sometime.

SHARON That would be great.

BEN I need to practice on people. You all can be my test case. And then when you're hanging out on your private yacht, I can use a quote from you on my website.

SHARON Sounds good to me!

MARY He's designing a website. The whole business is going to be run right inside of it.

BEN I'm building it myself, to save money.

MARY He's got this great book, and it talks a lot about breathing deep and taking your time.

SHARON Uh-huh.

BEN And how important it is to spend a lot of time doing things you're passionate about. If you follow your passions, you're halfway there.

MARY If you panic and start to cut corners, then forget it, it's like building a house on quicksand.

BEN It's really all about envisioning your life as financially sound.

MARY It's scary, but I really think it's true. It's a great book.

KENNY Oh, so maybe that's why you had that dream?

MARY Dream?

KENNY The one about the bank being a card table at the edge of an abandoned whatchamacallit. With the deposits in the shoebox.

MARY Oh, right.

BEN All right, we gonna eat some meat!

BEN gets up to check the meat.

SHARON (to BEN) Are you British?

BEN What?

SHARON Are you from England?

BEN No, why?

SHARON I don't know. Something about the way you talk. "Now you've given me the creeps."

BEN "Now you've given me the creeps." I didn't even realize I said it like that. Huh.

SHARON Maybe you're British.

BEN (kind of laughs, but he doesn't really know what she means) Yeah, maybe.

We hear the meat sizzling on the grill.

SHARON Wow, steak.

We hear the grill and some surrounding sounds.

BEN Does anyone want a beer?

KENNY and SHARON (they overlap in their reply) We don't drink.

MARY (speaks under her breath) I told you that, Ben.

Short pause.

BEN Oh well, does anyone need anything? What are you drinking, seltzer?

KENNY I'm okay.

SHARON I'd love a little more ice.

MARY Oh, I'll bring out a bucket.

BEN Mary, these are just going to be a couple more minutes if you want to check the potatoes.

MARY Oh, right.

MARY goes inside.

KENNY So this is a nice patio. Was it here when you moved in?

BEN Yes it was. Yeah, it's great.

KENNY I thought maybe you laid it yourself.

BEN No, no. I work in a bank.

KENNY The edges, the way the cement is pulling up from the edges, it looks like a do-it-yourself job.

BEN Really? Is that a problem? I don't think I noticed--

KENNY No, no. It's totally fine, it's just cosmetic. I only noticed because for a little while I was laying concrete, helping a friend with his business, and we did a lot of patios, so I learned a lot about it. But it's fine.

BEN Yeah. I never noticed.

KENNY You have to buy this sealant and put it on at just the right time or the concrete wants to pull away like that. Really though, you're fine.

BEN Maybe you know why our sliding glass door slides so funny.

KENNY Oh well, I--

BEN See, you have to jiggle it like this to get it over the "hump," see? So you start to open it and you have to go--

He jiggles the door. It opens.

BEN And then it opens. It isn't a big deal, but--oh shit, hold on--

BEN goes over to the grill. KENNY checks out the door.

KENNY Oh yeah, right. Look, it's the track. I think you might just need a whole new track, but later on let me bang on it a bit with a--do you have a rubber mallet?

BEN No, I don't think so.

KENNY I'll get one. I'll get one and I'll bring it over here and I'll bang on it and we'll see. I think I can fix it.

MARY slides through the door with the ice bucket.

MARY Excuse me.

KENNY Excuse me.

MARY The potatoes are perfect!

BEN Ditto on the steaks!

SHARON takes some ice and puts it in her glass and smiles at MARY.

SHARON This is awesome. It is so awesome. I mean, who invites their neighbors over for dinner anymore?

BEN Ha! We don't have any friends.


BEN Well.

SHARON Really, though. I mean we've lived in a bunch of neighborhoods now--apartments, houses, condos, even a hotel for a little while--

KENNY The house we were renting had a sewer leak--

MARY Eew--

SHARON So the landlord had to put us in a hotel. We've lived in a lot of places, and never, never did the neighbors give us the time of day. Neighbors. I mean why is that word still in the dictionary? It's archaic--am I saying the right word? Because you don't need to talk to your neighbors anymore. I mean does anyone borrow a cup of sugar anymore? No. You drive to the twenty-four-hour grocery.
Because you don't want to bother your neighbors.
And so if you come home from work and you do see your neighbor, like, getting out of their car or calling their kid inside--wait, what am I saying? Kids don't play outside anymore, they might get seduced by some homicidal drug addict--ahhhh! Anyway, if you get home and your neighbor is out setting the timer on their watering system, then you look at the ground or maybe give a quick wave and run inside. Because maybe you had a bad day or maybe you have pinkeye or something and you don't want to get too close to them. Always an excuse. And when you get inside, behind your closed door, quiet in your house, you make a pact with yourself to talk to them next time, but then things get...fucked up...oh, sorry. I didn't mean to say that. I apologize--

KENNY She has a sailor mouth.

SHARON I do. I'm working on it, but I just think there is no real communication anymore, real communication about real things, about that steak or that sliding glass door, or yes, I would love some more ice, but here we are, having that sort of communication and it's just so...it's so beautiful--

SHARON starts to cry. Head in hands. A moment or two of just SHARON crying, like deep, private weeping. BEN and MARY look for a moment, then BEN busies himself at the grill. KENNY gets up.

KENNY It's okay, sweetie, just--

KENNY leans over to comfort SHARON and WHAM, the patio umbrella comes crashing down, hitting him on the head.


BEN Oh shit.

KENNY is holding the back of his head.

SHARON Baby, are you okay?

KENNY Yeah, yeah. It's just--hold on, I gotta sit down. Whoo. I'm seeing stars.

MARY Oh, wait you're bleeding, you're bleeding, let me get a towel.

MARY races to go inside. She can't get the sliding door open.

BEN You have to jiggle it jiggle it jiggle it. No, like this--

BEN runs over and jiggles the door, or does KENNY get up and jiggle it with his hand still on his head? Whatever it is, it's mayhem.

KENNY No, it's okay, really. I'm sure it's just--I just need a second--(He takes his hand away. He really is bleeding) Oh, wait, yeah, maybe a towel.

SHARON Shit, baby, just keep the pressure on--

MARY runs back out with a towel.

MARY I can't believe this. Ben, that (quickly, almost under her breath) goddamned (back to normal voice) umbrella!

BEN I know, I know.

KENNY It's okay, it's gonna be fine--

SHARON He's got a hard head, right baby?

KENNY Heh-heh. Maybe a little ice?

SHARON The ice is right here. (she gets a handful of ice out of the bucket and puts it in the towel)

MARY Ben, let's just take the umbrella out, okay? Like I suggested yesterday. Because this keeps happening, and I didn't want anyone to get hurt. So let's just take the thirty seconds--(BEN slips the umbrella out from the hole and leans it against the house) Yes, the thirty seconds it takes to take the umbrella out so no one gets hurt, and we can consider a new umbrella that isn't from the fucking--excuse me--bargain basement--

BEN Mary--

MARY So that our guests aren't required to get stitches just for daring to come into our backyard.

SHARON It's okay, really--

KENNY I don't need stitches. I've had stitches before.

BEN Where's the tag? I'm calling the manufacturer. In fact, I should call them right now. (SHARON and KENNY are like, no no no no don't worry, really) Kenny, we can take you to the hospital. (SHARON and KENNY are even more like no no no really)

BEN Where is that tag--

BEN realizes something about the situation. He slips outside of his tizzy and returns to calm host mode.

BEN Okay. Okay, look at us. Look at us. Kenny, you're fine?

KENNY Totally. I'm just going to keep the pressure on for a bit.

BEN All right, then.

SHARON (in a bad British accent) Alrighty, then, Ben.

BEN What?

SHARON I said, "Alrighty, ole chap, cup a tea!" You're British! Admit it! Admit it!

KENNY Sharon--

BEN So. How 'bout some steak?

SHARON Let's do it!

BEN starts taking steaks off the grill.

BEN Kenny, you get the first one in honor of your concussion.

KENNY Ha-ha.

MARY Potatoes.

SHARON Do you all ever have "twice-baked" potatoes?

BEN Oh yeah, with all that cream in them.


MARY Sometimes, but they are so much work.

SHARON My mom used to make those all the time.

A few moments of sitting down and settling in. BEN is sitting down, and they are all taking their first bites.

KENNY Aw yeah. (he gives BEN the thumbs-up)

MARY Delicious, honey.

Does one of them get a piece of gristle and do that weird chewing thing where you have to get it out of your mouth and spit it in your napkin? BEN glances over into KENNY and SHARON's yard.

SHARON I can't believe I cried.

MARY Oh, now--

BEN Cried?

SHARON A few minutes ago. When I was talking about neighbors.

BEN God, did I miss that? Did I forget?

SHARON They say it's part of the process, feeling things, letting your emotions just happen in real time rather than running away from them on that glossy motorcade of substances.

MARY Process?

KENNY (under his breath) Baby, we were going to keep that to ourselves--

SHARON Kenny and I met in Eldridge Smith Tomforde.

MARY (gets it) Oh.

BEN (Eating. Chipper, oblivious) What's Eldridge Smith Tomforde?

Pause for a moment.

MARY It's a rehab facility, honey. For substance abuse.

BEN (still chipper) Oh, so that's why you don't drink.

KENNY Yes, and that's why we don't smoke crack or shoot crystal meth or snort big fat lines of cocaine at four in the morning for the third day in a row.

Quick pause, then SHARON starts to laugh. Then KENNY laughs and MARY sort of smiles.

BEN Well, more power to you. And so you met in this...this...

SHARON Facility. Yes. We were both in for three months--we arrived the same week.

KENNY And we resisted the attraction for at least a month.

SHARON Because you're supposed to. You're actually supposed to resist it for a year, but--

KENNY (re: hot SHARON) But who can resist this, right?

BEN and KENNY laugh knowingly, but it is a little weird.

SHARON And it's so strange "getting out." Those doors part and you walk outside into the hot air, thinking about your apartment that's waiting for you, still sealed shut, filled with all your crappy stuff, dishes molding in the sink, countertops piled with old beer cans and underwear and pipes and stuffed animals covered in puke. And you're standing outside the hospital, clutching each other's sweaty hands for dear life--
And then there was this house.

KENNY My aunt died.

SHARON There was this house, and--this is not a lie--we went to T.J.Maxx and I bought a dress with flowers on it and a pair of "flats." "Flats," and Kenny bought a suit--

KENNY It was two hundred and fifty dollars marked down to thirty-four ninety-nine.

SHARON And he bought shoes also, and an undershirt and socks...

KENNY And we went to see my great-uncle, who was very close to my aunt. She left the house to him--

SHARON And we asked if we could live here. We asked him to give us a chance.


DETROIT Copyright 2011 by Lisa DAmour

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