Encore Michigan

‘Aubrey’ at The Detroit Rep tells the story of people looking for their place in the world

Review April 08, 2019 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–A heroin addict/hooker goes to visit the gravedigger/coffin builder who lives off the grid and buried her late heroin-addict boyfriend.

That’s presumably the elevator pitch for Aubrey, a play by Joe Musso now in production at The Detroit Repertory Theatre.

Aubrey Gagnier (Jenaya Jones Reynolds) , the addict, is haunted her lover’s drug overdose and seeks out the coffin builder, Ivan (Aaron Kottke) who she believes can speak with the dead. He denies having the ability to commune with the departed, but one wonders who else Ivan had been talking to before Aubrey showed up. He is pretty cut from everything by design, as he has a tragic and difficult personal history that socially isolates him.

The two become linked as they each find something in one another that they have been searching for.

Reynolds’ Aubrey is a bit hard to take in Act One, not because she is not inhabiting the character very well, but because she is. Heroin addicts are hard to be around. When they aren’t high, they are known to be yammerers. And they frequently wander from one inane topic and observation to another. They are tiring to endure. Musso’s dialogue captures this quality very well. But, her recipient of the banter is a gravedigger who spends most of his life alone in workshop/home in the woods, so he is game to listen and for the company. Kottke does a fine job with his doleful broken Ivan.

The dynamic is a little reminiscent of Frankenstein visiting the blind Monk in the forest cabin in that classic story.

Act Two is easier to take as both Aubrey and Ivan are gaining traction in their quests to find a reason to live. The conversation is ramping up with a bit more hope in the air.

Directed by Barbara Busby, Aubrey is a curious tale and story construction. It is very much in keeping with the Rep’s mission of telling the stories of real people living and struggling in their real lives.

The play runs about two hours with an intermission. It could be tighter as perhaps a 1 hour and 15-minute one-act. But that is for the playwright to work out over time.

Musso’s conclusion to their story seems a little pat, though not predictable. A little too neat for people who are anything but. But Aubrey, in the end, is a compelling yarn about possibilities for redemption, and never giving up on people who don’t fit neatly into our pre-conceived or pre-fabricated pigeon holes.

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