Right up front, you need to know that Cops, the drama at the Phoenix Stage Company in Oakville, features very strong adult language and sexual content. Actually, if there are more than three sentences uttered without the “F” bomb in it, it would be surprising. This is a play about a couple of bad cops and what happens when they encounter a gunman in a dangerous situation in a local diner.
Terry Curtis Fox, who penned episodes of Hill Street Blues, a police-centered television series, set his play in Chicago in the mid-1970s. However, considering how often we hear reports of white cops shooting black suspects, this production at the Phoenix Stage Company is certainly timely today and just as controversial.
The acting in this production directed by Ed Bassett is terrific. The big problem is that although the set looks great and realistically represents a diner, the sightlines are so bad that you can’t even see some of the actors who are doing a fabulous job. Obviously the theater tried to deal with this issue by blocking out some of the side seats, but unless you are sitting where you can see the characters lying on the stage floor and/or hiding behind the counter, then you miss some very fine acting indeed.
What one walks away with after seeing this production is that some cops have a worse reputation than sailors for their use of foul language and that the stories some cops tell are all about the private dirty deals they make and the women they have toyed with.
In this production, Rolf, played by Ian Diedrich, and Bob, played by Rob Richnavsky, are pretty nasty plain clothes cops. Diedrich portrays Rolf as a disrespectful and most dislikable cop. You know from the opening scene just how nasty he is because he sits on a patron’s hat intentionally, creating quite a scene with a cabby. Tony Benedetti performs the cabby well and reacts as one would expect when being taunted.
Another scene that shows just how disagreeable Rolfe really is happens when he is given the bill for the food that he and Bob have eaten. After giving the waitress a really hard time and ordering more than enough food for a breakfast, Rolf tosses the bill to the ground without even looking at it and without any thanks. He expects the meal to be free because he’s a cop. Richnavsky comes off as the more likable cop, but that is only until the real trouble starts.
Eric Wilczak plays the owner of diner and is the cook. Most of his performance is hidden behind a counter, but when the audience sees him, Wilczak definitely looks terrified as he stands trembling with a gun at his head.
Foster Evans Reese as the gunman delivers a most memorable performance as he desperately tries to get himself out the situation he is in. Reese is also hidden behind the counter and essentially out of sight far too often. However, whenever he stretches his neck out to see where the cops are, the audience sees a frightened man who does not want to kill anyone and who wants to get out of the situation alive.
There are surprises in this play, especially at the end, when the resolution packs quite a shock. Essentially, the play is not great, or unique, and far more like a television segment that has been done over and over again. However, the actors performing live make the show more startling and worth seeing.
Jonathan Ross is a uniformed cop who plays his part extremely well and Chuck Stango as Lt. Buchevski does a fine job with his role. Kristen Jacobsen as the waitress who is eager to get home is someone whom we would like to see in more productions. She doesn’t say much, but her facial expressions tell a lot. Aric Martin gets to eat an omelet on stage and when he speaks his big line, he pulls it off splendidly.
What works especially well in addition to the performances are the lighting design (Ian Diedrich), special lighting (John Poulin), and effects (Dan Willey) that contribute to the realistic treatment of the play. You can almost see and hear a train flashing by.
Policemen might not like the portrayal of these cops, but shoot-out fans who like fast-talking, cigarette-smoking, mean-spirited characters will be thoroughly satisfied with this production.
Cops runs through Jan. 30; call the box office office for tickets: 860-417-2505.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org