Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit and the New Millennium
by Lukas Woodyard
What do we envision when we think of the American Dream? A white picket fence, a loving spouse, a few kids, a well-paying job, or maybe even a dog? Imagery typically associated with the American Dream has all but vanished from the American public, possibly due to the fact that we are now a decade removed from the housing market crash and being told that our economic bubble is set to burst yet again. The reality of this depleted dream seems to be haunting two sects of society in particular: millennials and college students. Many of today’s students are wholly invested in a future of sweet nothings, paying thousands of dollars for an education only to graduate with little hope of getting into the esteemed “dream career.” For many the decision to pursue higher education feels useless but it is ultimately a necessity in today’s society. Thus, the new millennium has become an image of overwhelming debt, misplaced hopes, and survival for survival’s sake. Is this the new American dream?
Lisa D’Amour’s play Detroit explores the aftermath of a lifetime replete with empty investments and the inability to escape one’s own circumstances. D’Amour received her Bachelor of Arts from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi in English and Theatre, a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, and opened her own theatre company, PearlDamour in 1997. Detroit, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2011, is influenced by D’Amour’s life experience as well as her concerns with modern American society. In an interview with the National Theatre in London, she noted that Detroit was “subconsciously influenced” by her family’s reaction to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. It is also important to note that the setting of Detroit is not the once-great industrial Michigan city, but a general representation of suburban America. So why call the play Detroit? “The city of Detroit, just that name conjures up a kind of mythic America that is in some way lost,” states D’Amour. “I think the play is dealing with a particular crisis right now in America that has to do with an infrastructure that is failing a lot of people.”
The characters of Detroit inhabit a world that is seemingly falling apart and the playwright emphasizes both their failures and the ways in which they choose to react to the crumbling world around them. For Sharon, Kenny, Mary, and Ben, their connection is defined by their camaraderie in the face of these failures. The human reaction to stress, failure, and aimlessness is a theme that lends the play a certain universality, but it is also especially relevant for college students on the cusp of entering this ambiguously-ordered world. While braving the unknown is an intimidating prospect, Detroit offers a certain comfort in reasserting that you are not going to be alone in that struggle.