Today’s post is about Lisa D’amour’s Detroit! This play has depictions of alcohol use, mentions of alcohol and drug abuse, and pyromania. Seriously. My first impression of the cover was aww what a cute grill and now that I’ve finished the play, I can’t look at the grill in the same way. Anyway, you’ll like this play if you’re into loss of The American Dream, USA urban cultures, and dramatic things happening to ordinary people.
Plot: Suburb neighbors seek sober fulfillment in their lives through each other.
Initial thoughts: I’m just going to say it now: this play has nothing to do with Detroit. I was expecting some kind of wise summation of life in USA circa 2011, but no.
The other thing I am going to say is that suburbs legitimately scare me and my biggest fear is that I’ll end up living in a suburb. My brother? Total suburb material. Me? Not so much. That said, it was hard for me to relate to this play for a number of reasons. The supposed setting is “Not necessarily Detroit. However, we are in a ‘first ring’ suburb outside of a midsize American city” (5). I take huge issue with this because as somebody who lives on the West coast of the USA, our experience of the suburbs is extremely different from that of the East coast. The South also has a particular culture, so it’s hard to imagine this play being as relevant to anywhere in the USA. Most of the characters have grown up in the Midwest, and the play has a particularly Midwest flavor.
In addition to relying on Midwest culture, the playwright makes great assumptions about how people want to live their lives or what kind of relationship they want to have with their neighbors. Despite taking place “Now” (6), the play does not acknowledge that some people do have comfortable relationships with their neighbors without the suspicion, paranoia, or nostalgia Detroit leads us to question. This is especially prevalent in Frank’s monologue at the end. The play insists that people want to, should, or should want to have relationships with their neighbors, but really all the play does is show how lonely and isolated people are in the suburbs and the need for friends outside of work circles. Sure, you may not ever really know your neighbors – and the play insists that as long as you like the people you hang out with, what does it matter what they do? – but this play is hardly the philosophical representation of USA society as it fronts to be.
Itty Bitty Research: Today’s research is about drugs. I’m one of those people who have partied with people who do drugs but really has no idea what said drugs do. I figure if nothing else, this is something that will come in handy for me re: life skills. Sharon lists a number of drugs in her monologue in scene 5: ecstasy, mushrooms, heroin, “ludes” (61), and “whip-its” (61). I decided to look into ludes and whip-its because I’ve never heard those terms before.
Ludes, short for quaaludes, are central nervous system depressants that became popular in the USA in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, which is why Sharon mentions their elderly neighbor takes them “just to remind himself of high school” (61). By the 1980s, ludes became illegal in the USA. Like in the past, they exist in tablet and capsule form. Fun fact: this is the drug of choice in the Wolf of Wallstreet. In short, ludes are downers that cause a euphoric effect, and they were popular hypnotics before they became illegal. This post by Angela Serratore in the Paris Review gives lots more useful information and a thorough history of ludes, if quaalaudes research is something that interests you.
As for whip-its, you can get them by going to your local grocery store and buying some good ol’ whipped cream. The high relies on nitrous oxide, which is better known as laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is found in whipped cream cannisters, so people press the nozzle and release the gas into their mouths, inhale the gas, and wait for it to kick. Demi Moore had an almost fatal seizure off these not five years ago, but they were popular already because adolescents can buy whipped cream legally and because it’s a cheap, quick high. The Duke Chronicle had a feature on them earlier this year discussing potential harms (death) and their prevalence on university campuses. Although the electrician neighbor in Detroit used these drugs to sate his high school nostalgia, whip-its remain popular and widespread.
The other thing I decided to research is the Pulitzer Prize, since I’ve read a lot of Pulitzer Prize winning or finalist plays but have no idea what that means exactly. Detroit was a Pulitzer Prize in Drama finalist in 2011, losing to Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris. Anyway, looking at the Pulitzer Prize website, I learned that the Pulitzer Prize is named after Joseph Pulitzer, who was a journalist, which is why journalism is the only category of 21 to be awarded a medal if you win. The category for drama began in 1917, and specifically for the prize in drama, “Columbia University, on the recommendation of The Pulitzer Prize Board, annually awards a Pulitzer Prize in drama of $10,000 ‘for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.'” The Pulitzer Prize website mentions how the judges determining what makes a work “distinguished” do not have a set criteria, and indeed many of the judges may not have any experience with theatrical performance. This was certainly the case in 2012 when Quiara Alegria Hudes won the prize for Water by the Spoonful. She mentioned how none of the judges necessarily worked in theatre and that it was odd to have her work singled out by people who were familiar with the genre. This certainly gives me new insight to Pulitzer Prize winners, as I hadn’t even noticed the aspect of Americana in them or understood why some lackluster plays won. Now I understand.
Works cited: D’amour, Lisa. Detroit. New York: Faber and Faber, 2011. Print.