By Daniel Skora
There’s going to be a lot less harmony in Harmony Park now that a new guy has been hired to be part of the city landscaping crew that’s working to ready the park for its grand opening. Sam, the new guy, had been doing landscaping for six years with a private company, but doesn’t talk about much outside of that. The past that he keeps secret will eventually tear apart the camaraderie that has existed amongst the landscaping crew before he came on board. That discord is the driving force behind “Harmony Park”, playwright Daniel Damiano’s new play currently having its world premiere at the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
Ernie (Harold Uriah Hogan) is the crew’s foreman. He’s a black man supervising a white crew, a level-headed man who expects a good work ethic from his charges. Mike (Aaron Kottke) is the youngest member of the crew, and because he grew up without a father around the house, he looks up to Ernie as a mentor. Jose (Samer Ajluni) is the good-natured Hispanic family guy whose houseful of kids just might be the reason he likes to eat a lot.
The ground that the crew is preparing to become a park is also the site where two teenage girls were raped and murdered years ago. The crime and its aftermath were and remain controversial. Soon after Sam (Mark Bishop) begins working with the crew, Jose comes bearing news about information he’s discovered concerning Sam. Is it that news which will be the cause of Ernie’s forthcoming anger or is it the fact that Mike knew about those revelations and didn’t tell him?
“Harmony Park” never becomes clearly focused. It straddles the fence between wanting to be plot-oriented and a character study of individuals who work as common laborers. Damiano’s first act goes on far too long in establishing the fact that these are simple guys, rough at the edges and restricted by the unsophisticated nature of their jobs. Their language is laced with profanity. Mike, in particular, seems unable to put together two f’ing sentences without inserting an expletive.
They have a cursory knowledge of books and ideas, but they seem to view those as the bailiwick of smarter people. In one exchange, they seem unsure about the correct literary source of the idea of taking one of two apparently similar paths. Is it “The Road Less Travelled”, they wonder, or “The Road Not Taken”. In the second act, we learn that Sam used to be a cop, and the plot, which never actually thickens, at least is brought to a lukewarm simmer.
“Harmony Park” is nicely cast by director Barbara Busby. Scenic design and construction, a park-like setting defined by numerous painted hangings suggesting leaves and other vegetation is by Harry Wetzel. Lighting design is by Thomas Schraeder, sound by Burr Huntington. Costumes are by Judy Dery. Stage manager for the production is Dan Jaroslaw.
“Harmony Park” runs through May 20th. Tickets are available for several subscription packages that can be purchased at any time and are good for a year from date of purchase. Visit their site at www.DetroitRepTheatre.com for more information or email them at DetRepTh@aol.com. The Detroit Repertory Theatre is located at 13103 Woodrow Wilson in Detroit.