Having read Max Hastings’ “Catastrophe” published by Knopf

Catastrophe

The national debate that is ongoing this year in the U.K. where one side contends that the 1914-1918, “Great War” was nothing other than a mighty conflagration ignited by warring empires v. those that believe the war was a serious fight against militarism and the issuance of a free, democratic Europe is one worth monitoring.

Max Hastings is squarely in the camp that says that World War One cannot be explained away as a war that was essentially for naught and that it would make no difference who actually won, the Central Powers or the Allied Entente Nations. Some critics have gone to say that if Germany would have come on top, the only thing that would occur is that the European Union would have made its appearance that much earlier!

As an American this argument is fascinating. We are ourselves, and have been since World War Two, unapologetically wielding Pax Americana, now rounding out into our recent historical disasters like the Invasion of Iraq. I think we will be similarly and hotly debating whenever American hegemony loses its grip on worldwide affairs– as there is no doubt we will inevitably (sooner than later) lose our superpower status.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

This is my third of Hastings books. It is by far the best I’ve been able to read about World War One and should stand as a companion piece to Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.”

 

 

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Dashed American Dream at the Center of Zoetic Stage’s Marvelously Rich “Detroit”

By Michelle F. Solomon, Florida Theater On Stage

Just before the lights go up on Mary and Ben’s backyard patio in Lisa D’Amour’s play Detroit at Zoetic Stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center, Hootie and the Blowfish’s ‘Time” plays. The lyrics are something to be paid attention to as they echo the sentiments of where our four characters have arrived in their current state of affairs: “Time, why you punish me, like a wave crashing into the shore, you wash away my dreams.”

When the lights do go up, Mary (Irene Adjan), a paralegal, and husband, Ben (Chaz Mena), a recently laid off loan officer, are chit chatting with their new neighbors. Sharon (Betsy Graver) and Kenny (Matt Stabile) are a newly married couple who have just moved in next door. She works in a “phone bank” — a customer service call center, while he’s taken a job in a warehouse.medetroit

Life at Mary and Ben’s appears on the surface to be copacetic, from their Pier 1-esque outdoor table amid a quaint suburban setting, to their relationship, which seems like its weathered a few storms and is now settled into apathetic domesticity. A sign visible through the sliding glass door reads “Home is where our story begins,” and in the case of D’Amour’s play, it certainly is.

Yet, there are subtle indications that what lies beneath may be a bit bumpier than what’s first perceived. D’Amour offers symbolic gestures: The patio door that doesn’t slide smoothly and the tabletop umbrella that has its own ideas about staying upright.
It seems that with all the friendly banter, the individuals, whether of their own making or not, have become shaped by circumstances.

Sharon snaps a rubber band, part of a conditioning ritual for her to stop her barrage of using four-letter words in conversation. She has no filter, basically blurting out whatever hits her at the moment. When she realizes that Mary and Ben’s backyard is so close to hers, she says “I could spit, it’s so close,” and she does.

Despite the financial setback of her husband losing his job, Mary still wants to keep up appearances. She serves the new neighbors caviar and crackers. She brags about Ben working at home on his new financial planning business. That is, until she starts drinking. Late in the evening, she runs next door, banging on the door and unloads on Sharon.

The layers begin to peel away. In vignette after vignette, the audience watches as the weaknesses begin to unravel. Ben has been spending time during the day on the internet, but not as devoted to his financial planning business as he has let on. Sharon slips and smokes pot with a neighborhood electrician and she’s worried she could slip even further back into her addiction. “I open my eyes every morning and all I want is a pipe to smoke. It’s like there’s a fire burning in the center of my head,” she tells Mary, “and the pipe is the water that will put it out.” Kenny only wants to let loose and go to a strip club.

The title of the play, too, is a metaphor. The play isn’t set specifically in the Michigan city, but represents a place where the American dream that was once held so dear has rotted away. There are other messages about the general malaise of life in the 21st century. Sharon perhaps has the most telling line in the play when she says: “It’s so weird how nothing ever happens. You keep hoping something is going to happen, and it never does.”

While it’s easy to take the play at its face value, director Stuart Meltzer offers a purposeful pacing that gives the show its perfect ascent. Every once in a while, ambient noise of planes flying over the suburban houses can be heard, and it adds to the energy — this slow ascent that arrives to full throttle. By the time, the four characters are creating mayhem in a manic and drunken backyard barbecue dance, we’re engaged in the frenzy.

Each of the characters climb, too — their peaks and valleys in tune to the direction of D’Amour’s script. Graver’s Sharon is the most volatile. The actress uses every opportunity to dig deep for a surprise whammy of teeter-totter emotions. Adjan’s Mary is more slow burn, yet fragile and brittle — giving the back story that’s she’s become accustomed to a life that ended up not of her own making. Mena peppers Ben with idiosyncrasies – he fiddles with the reading glasses that dangle on a thin strap around his neck, he laughs sometimes nervously, sometimes full on, he’s entirely self conscious, yet keeps up a veneer of confidence.

Stabile’s Kenny plays like a caged animal, calm on the surface but ready to break free at any moment. When he leads the group in the backyard ritual, he’s the Alpha Dog and Stabile has perfectly positioned his character to take on this role. David Kwiat shows up as Frank at the end of the play for a telling monologue that puts previous events into perspective. Kwiat’s monotone delivery works best as he conveys the way things used to be. “Such a perfect memory,” he says as he describes what the neighborhood was like when it was a real community.

Michael McKeever’s realistic set undergoes a transformation late in the play in a “how’d they do that?” moment. The rest of the production team delivers on creating the realism so necessary to keep the show rooted in believability with costumes by Estela Vrancovich and Marcelo Ferreira’s lighting design. Matt Corey’s ambient sound adds bucolic effect.

D’Amour’s play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is a thought-provoking piece of theater. The Zoetic Stage production finds its own complex groove in Detroit to present a must see in Miami.

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Superior performances make Zoetic Stage’s ‘Detroit’ a must see, Miami Herald

By Christine Dolen

Photo: Justin Namon

Miami Herald Reviewer

One could craft a compelling play about the disintegration of a once-great American city and call it Detroit, but that wasn’t Lisa D’Amour’s aim when she wrote her play, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in drama.

D’Amour’s Detroit, now kicking off Zoetic Stage’s season in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is part withering comedy, part character study. Its characters’ lives are refracted through the lens of the economic downturn, as the American Dream transforms from aspiration to myth. What the play depicts is, by turns, funny, stress-filled and cautionary — much like life itself these days.

Set in the adjacent backyards of two modest, close-to-the-city surburban homes, the play follows the evolving (and dangerous, as it turns out) relationship of a couple and their new young neighbors.up in smoke

Mary (Irene Adjan) is a paralegal and, of necessity, the breadwinner since her hubby Ben (Chaz Mena) lost his bank job. She’s pleasant enough when she’s sober, but that’s usually not the case in the evenings when vodka adds some sting to her commentary. He’s notably eccentric and socially awkward, his glasses dangling from a cord around his neck, his laugh forced, and he doesn’t seem to be making much progress in getting his new financial planning website up and running.

The couple next door, who met not-so-cute in rehab, has nothing except each other and a tenuous sobriety. Sharon (Betsy Graver), who works in a call center, is a blond bombshell who wears a rubber band on her wrist so she can snap herself back into the moment whenever she feels self-destructive impulses creeping into her thoughts. Her husband Kenny (Matt Stabile), a guy who knows how to fix things (unlike Ben), toils at a warehouse job that isn’t the best career choice for a guy who has a pending lawsuit over a slip-and-fall back injury. Not that Kenny and Sharon have many options.

How events unfold is something Zoetic audiences deserve to discover in the moment. But under Stuart Meltzer’s artfully detailed direction, this volatile but fascinating quartet heads toward a conflagration, as bad decisions, bad influences and bad old habits prove disastrous. A fifth character, Kenny’s great uncle Frank (David Kwiat), appears briefly near the end of the show to provide a reality check. But by that point, a neighborly friendship has been torched.

As is usually the case in a Zoetic show, the acting is uniformly fine — and, in Graver’s case, masterful. Reading the script, you don’t get a sense the play belongs to Sharon, but Graver claims it. Though Sharon is the definition of hot mess, Graver shades the character with an enthusiastic simplicity so winning that the audience, like Stabile’s quietly empathetic Kenny, forgives Sharon her flaws.

Adjan and Mena put Mary and Ben in that testy place between comfortable familiarity and overt hostility. The actors let the audience see how, despite the couple’s attempts at social graces and keeping up appearances, the economic downturn may well prove fatal to their marriage.

Zoetic’s design team — Michael McKeever (set), Marcelo Ferreira (lighting), Matt Corey (sound) and Estella Vrancovich (costumes) — delivers first-rate work, and the play’s daunting technical challenges come off without a hitch.

D’Amour has said that, as she created Detroit and saw it get its 2010 world premiere at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, she wondered whether economic recovery might soon make the play seem dated. No worries. No matter how greatly the economy rebounds, the much-produced Detroit will remain a vibrant, insightful piece of theater.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/performing-arts/article3661447.html#storylink=cpy
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Examiner Review for Zoetic’s “Detroit” by Charlotte Libov

medetroit

 

Photo: Justin Namon

As the play “Detroit,” enters its final weekend at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, theatergoers still have the opportunity to see this work that blends comedy with drama to create an unsettling character study of four people on the edge.

The action in this play, which is Zoetic Stage‘s season opener, takes place in the backyards of two homes. They are presumably located in Detroit, but could be anywhere in a U.S. city where the sagging economy has rendered its inhabitants uncertain of their future.

It is in this environment that Ben, excellently played by Chas Mena and his wife Mary, portrayed by the always delightful Irene Adjani, welcome into their lives a mysterious new couple; the uninhibited Sharon (Betsy Graver) and the somewhat hotheaded Kenny (Matt Stabile), both superb in their roles as well.

The plot unfurls as the couples bond over their backyard barbecues. At first, Ben and Mary appear to be the stable, especially when compared with the flighty Sharon and hotheaded Kenny who met in rehab.

Or did Sharon and Kenny really meet in rehab? Inconsistencies in their stories emerge, and as the play progresses, they egg Ben and Mary into taking risks that play havoc with their sense of self, their marriage, and finally almost their lives.

The somewhat skillful plotting in his play by Lisa D’Amour keeps the audience guessing, and the suspense builds until the jarring climax. This sets the stage for the entrance of Kenny’s great uncle Frank (David Kwait) who makes a speech that ties up, perhaps a little too patly, ties up all the loose ends just as the curtain falls.

“Detroit” was a Pulitzer Prize-winning finalist but so much time is lavished on the buildup that it loses some of its fizz along the way. The true glory of Zoetic’s production comes from its ensemble of fine actors, and it is they who provide ample reason enough for theater lovers to head to the Arsht Center this weekend.

More info: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

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