Henry David Thoreau, the original hipster, famously wrote that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Occasionally, a performance will so accurately convey that axiom that it’s almost uncomfortable to witness. Chaz Mena accomplished this feat in Zoetic Stage’s Detroit at the Arsht Center. He found the quiet desperation in Ben, an unemployed husband of Anytown suburbia who was perennially building a financial website that never materialized, watching NASCAR programs on max volume in a zombified stupor, and staring a few beats too long at his younger, blonder, always underdressed new neighbor. No matter what the script dictated for Mena, from cooking real meat onstage to nearly breaking his leg on his neighbors’ unfinished porch, he never lost that hard-wired sense of existential malaise that we call the midlife crisis. And when he unveiled a game-changing secret in the play’s discomfiting, climactic bacchanal, the result was both hilarious and heartbreaking. Detroit may have been an equal-opportunity ensemble piece, but Mena took the reins and stole the show.
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