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Play by Millsaps Alumna Debuts in New York to Great Acclaim

A group of alumni from Millsaps College recently gathered in New York to attend the Off Broadway play, "Detroit," by Lisa D'Amour, B.A. 1991, and offer congratulations to their friend.

"It was really special to see the play as a group," said Shelley Lose Johansson, B.A. 1991, of Johnstown, Pa., who roomed with D'Amour her sophomore year at Millsaps, worked on theatre productions with her and has remained friends through the years.

Lisa D'Amour
Millsaps alumni who lived in Sanders residence hall who were among alumni who gathered in New York to view Lisa D'Amour's play "Detroit" are from left, Laura Reimer Kellum, Shelley Lose Johansson, Lisa D'Amour, Stephanie Stacy Richter, and Bridgett Hurley.

Alumni who attended the play also included Bridgett Hurley Goodwin, B.A. 1991, of Richmond, Va.; Laura Riemer Kellum, B.A. 1991, of Tupelo; Stephanie Stacy Richter, B.A. 1991, of Knoxville, Tenn.; Greg Chastain, B.A. 1991, of Atlanta; Dr. Ken Kellum, B.S. 1991, of Tupelo; Scott Holley, B.S. 1991, of New Haven, Conn.; and Heather Jones, B.A. 1992, of New York City.

"Detroit," opened on Sept. 18 at Playwrights Horizons Theatre and has won great acclaim. The play ran Sept. 19 through Oct. 7 and was extended from Oct. 16-28; tickets sold out in two days for the extra two weeks.

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times wrote "A sharp X-ray of the embattled American psyche as well as a smart, tart critique of the country's fraying social fabric, Ms. D'Amour's dark comedy is as rich and addictively satisfying as a five-layer dip served up with a brimming bowl of tortilla chips."

Jesse Oxfeld of The New York Observer described it as "A tense, terrific , funny new play under the sure hand of ace director Anne Kauffman," and Jennifer Farrar of Associated Press pronounced it, "Intriguing and edgy." Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News gave it four stars proclaiming it, "Excellent. A horror story hitting very close to home."

D'Amour wrote the play, which is about relationships and the recession, in 2009 as the economy was declining. "It takes on a new resonance, having done it during an election year," she said.

(L-R) Sarah Sokolovic, Darren Pettie, David Schwimmer, and Amy Ryan in a scene from "Detroit."
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

"Detroit" played at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and at London's Royal National Theatre before opening on Off Broadway in New York, where David Schwimmer, known as Ross on the TV show, "Friends," is in the cast.

Voice mail messages offering congratulations alerted playwright D'Amour about unexpected good news one day last April. She soon learned "Detroit" had been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

"You don't find out that you're a finalist until the day they announce the prize winners" she said. "It couldn't have been more out of the blue."

"Detroit" allows D'Amour's writing talent to shine while the collaborative work she's also known for blends theatre and installation art and is site-specific, often outside of traditional theatre settings. She often works with her long-time collaborative partner Katie Pearl, operating under the name PearlDamour and sharing the role of playwright, director, fundraiser, producer, designer, collaborator and tour manager. During "How to Build a Forest," which is a collaboration with visual artist Shawn Hall, D'Amour, Pearl and a team of performer/builders assemble and disassemble a simulated forest on stage in the course of eight hours.

D'Amour credits her years at Millsaps during which she majored in English and theatre with grounding her collaborative efforts in theatre.

"What was amazing for me in terms of my Millsaps experience was it was a small theatre department, and I would end up being able to do everything. I designed lighting, I acted, you name it,"said D'Amour, who received an OBIE Award in 2003 for "Nita and Zita," a play about two sisters who were showgirls and settled in New Orleans in the 1940s.

Brent Lefavor, former associate professor of technical theatre at Millsaps and now resident designer at New Stage Theatre in Jackson, remembers D'Amour as a bright, articulate student involved in all aspects of the theatre and in Millsaps Players productions that included "The Warrior's Husband," "A Bequest to the Nation," "Ring Around the Moon," "Our Town," and "The Lady's Not for Burning." "She directed ‘Top Girls' by Caryl Churchill as a senior project and was very good," he said.

Lefavor said he's not surprised by D'Amour's success. "She was always very, very thoughtful," he said.

D'Amour, who earned a Master's of Fine Arts from the University of Texas-Austin, said she did little creative writing at Millsaps, but she considers Dr. Suzanne Marrs, professor of English at Millsaps, influential because she introduced her to the writing of southern women.

Marrs, Welty Foundation Scholar in Residence, took pleasure in remembering D'Amour as a student.

"What a thrill it is to know that a student who starred in my 1991 Southern Women Writers class could now be one of the writers I list on my syllabus," Marrs said. "Seeing Lisa D'Amour's name in this week's New Yorker is a teacher's dream."

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