Last week at Center Stage Theater, UCSB Theater & Dance Dept.’s Ellen K. Anderson unveiled her original play “Bedtime in Detroit” to Santa Barbara audiences. Debuting in New York a year ago, the script is a unique love story, set to the scene of Detroit burning in the distance.
When Susan Cadillac (Sage Parker) returns to a beloved firehouse in Detroit, she marvels at the sight of it. That is, until the believed-dead Axel Buckman (Jeff Mills) jumps out from underneath the bed covers and scares her. “I almost forgot you scream louder than anyone I know.” From there, the audience is taken on a journey to discover this bickering couple’s past.
The cast and stage are intimate, with just one small set and four actors rotating about the stage. While a unique experience, the close proximity backfires somewhat when the lights on the characters’ miner helmets flash into your eyes. It’s a small price to pay, though, for the experience of the play, which is otherwise a gem.
Susan’s daughter, Lilly (recent UCSB grad Lisa Sanderson), is first introduced dragging her kayak across the stage, bitching about how she has to track down her mother in this god-awful town. Her teenage boorishness is met with Henry Malcolm Ford (Paul Taylor), a young entrepreneur who is instantly charmed by her voracity.
Mills lights up the scene with his energetic presence, and you can tell he’s a seasoned veteran of the stage. Parker is a nice partner for him, and her strength and individuality as a character play well into the overall story and feel.
Taylor’s character is a bit muddled, and he seems to be the only one who doesn’t revel in his back story, a factor that seems to hold the play back somewhat. He’s also the only character who isn’t as stubborn as the fiery buildings of Detroit, so it’s unclear what his role really is, other than a love interest for Lilly.
In fact, as a viewer, it’s hard to understand just what Henry and Lilly see in each other at all, but I guess that’s the message of the play, in a way. As an outsider, you can’t really understand what someone loves about Detroit — a city falling apart before your eyes — just like it was a mystery to Lilly why her mother loves wild, crazy Axel. But then, as you discover the wonders of the city — its mines, its culture — you come to at least recognize the attraction. We’re left cold, however, as we realize that the people, the city, and its story are all somehow disappointing in the end.
Darkly comic, Anderson’s original script really shows the depth of its characters and the city they all come from. While we don’t have all the puzzle pieces put in place for us, in the end, you can’t help but love the way it all doesn’t quite come together.