DPT’s American Hero is a story for gritty Detroiters to embrace
If there is one thing that Detroiters understand, it’s how to make it up as you go along to survive. American Hero, the first production from the new Detroit Public Theatre, is a testament to that spirit.
American Hero is set in a strip-mall sub shop. It seem loosely based on the Subway chain given the fare and selection of breads and extras. The town could be anywhere, but it’s not hard, in the context of greater Detroit, to place it in Warren, Pontiac or Redford.
The story centers on three characters: Sheri (Lisa Michaels) who not only works at Heroes, but also a second shift at a taco fast-food place; Jamie (Maggie Meyer), a potty-mouthed tarty cosmetologist who was fired from her last job and has kids to raise who are on the verge of being taken away from her; and Ted (Milan Malisik), a married father who has an MBA, and was downsized out of a job with a bank and can’t get another white-collar job.
All three get hired for the opening of the new sub-shop, owned by franchisee Bob (Lynch R. Travis), an apparently African (from his accent) entrepreneur who disappears after orientation, never to return. The three employees are forced to bond, and get creative about how they are going to run the place and pay themselves, including making their own off-menu sandwiches from home when supplies run out.
It is a dark comedy, but not one with belly laughs. The ark of the story is how these people, each with their own economic and family challenges, are going to improvise their way to their way to the next day, the next paycheck, the next rent payment.
The play, written by Bess Wohl and first performed in 2013, captures dialogue extremely well. All three “sandwich artist” characters sound true to their circumstances. Lisa Michaels, whose character is providing for a sick father, plays her “I’m not that smart, and that’s why I’m not in college” character just right, because we all root for her as we know she is smart enough with a heart as big a Joe Louis’s fist sculpture in Detroit. Maggie Meyer is spot on as the hard-bitten, scrappy, flawed, pretty single-Mom. And Milan Malisic, manages the neat trick of making us hope he at least lands a job managing one of these shops despite some rather weak-willed mistakes he has made. Lynch Travis is the chameleon in the cast, playing Bob, a giant sandwich, a customer and the man from corporate who finally shows up.
Directed by Courtney Burkett, with a terrific and authentic looking sub-shop set by Monika Essen, American Hero is one of those plays that will hit home for a lot of play goers lucky enough to get a ticket. It is an economic story that may feel like it dates to 2010 or 2011 when the economy was reeling. But the story of people struggling to make a living, paying their bills, caring for kids or older parents, and counting the nickels, if there are any left at the end of the month, is one that is still with many of us.
And for Detroiters, who have been improvising for years, even decades, American Heroes and the the Heroes sub chain will seem like a very apt metaphor.
Bottom-Line: An apt and well crafted inaugural production from the new Detroit Public Theatre.
American Hero is performing at the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall inside the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center in Midtown Detroit.