When Shana Gold looks at Detroit, she sees a place that's "iconic in a sense." Or, actually, more than one sense.
"It was once a place with great job security where people were making an excellent living across the board, from executives to factory workers," she says. "[Now] it's sort of a symbol of what the American dream can slide into."
With its shuttered auto-industry buildings and desolate urban landscape, Detroit is so powerful a symbol of the latter, actually, that noted playwright Lisa D'Amour has lent its name to a work about 21st-century suburban unease — even though that play possesses no identifiable setting.
"Detroit is in some ways giving you [a] sense of a place that is on the edge economically," says Gold, who will direct the play at TheatreWorks starting Jan. 22. "But ... it could be any suburb."
D'Amour's play made its debut at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2010, and since has been performed nationally and internationally. It was a finalist for both a Pulitzer Prize in drama and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2011, and won an Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2013. This year TheatreWorks invited D'Amour to present Detroit to Colorado Springs audiences; when asked whom she would like to direct it, the playwright chose Gold.
"[D'Amour] was a college classmate of my husband in Austin, Texas," Gold says. "I had an opportunity to direct and be in some of her works. So over the years, since 1995, we've built an ... artistic friendship."
Originally from Washington, D.C., Gold, 40, currently lives in Brooklyn. It was there that the Colorado College alum developed her chops while earning her MFA in directing at Brooklyn College. Since then she has directed several off-Broadway plays, and taught and directed in the Lincoln Center Theater's education and outreach program. She currently works in the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and is a director in residence at New York's Theatre Squared.
With Detroit, her focus turns to two couples, as Ben and Mary are hosting neighbors Sharon and Kenny. As they enjoy a backyard barbecue, their conversations shift toward socioeconomic status and upward mobility, and angst arises. Excess soon gets the best of everyone, and the story turns.
"I see different responses from different audiences," Gold says. "There were some nights when people have laughed from start to finish, and other nights we just get uncomfortable chuckles. It really just depends on your sense of humor.
"[D'Amour's] work is incredibly fascinating. This play kind of took off because she was able to channel all of her poetic language, humor, and subversiveness through a theme that is incredibly relevant, especially when it first came out."