Nancy Sasso Janis
As I write a review, I often wish that I could attend a production a second time. Sometimes I want to witness that perfectly choreographed dance number once again. Other times I want to hear again a favorite song or a particularly funny bit of dialogue, or perhaps see again some technical highlight. Sometimes I wish I could see something that I realized after the curtain fell I had somehow missed.
Never did I feel I had missed so many important elements of a play than after the opening night performance of ‘COPS’ by Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork. It wasn’t the fault of the production at all, because everything that I had missed was brought up during the talk back that followed the 90-minute piece and others had caught all of them. Despite the fact that I was really paying attention and had a great seat, I somehow managed to miss a couple of really important plot points and technical things. A “do-over” for this audience member was probably in order, but I can base my review on all the action that I caught that made this a very different “showcase” at the PSC that I will not soon forget.
The experience of ‘COPS’ began while the audience members were shown to their seats. Upon entering the house, I felt like I had entered a working Chicago diner that existed in the seventies. PSC Managing Director (as well as the director of this piece) Ed Bassett designed the large set that enveloped the entire Clockwork stage and it could not have been more period perfect. Set decoration by Mr. Bassett and Lori Poulin was very detailed and gave everyone plenty to look at. Adding to the busy-ness of the diner were extras who sat onstage to enjoy a breakfast prepared by Agnes Dann before they exited and joined us in the house. They smell of the breakfast plates only added to the authenticity.
Ushers made it clear to everyone that the show would be presented without intermission and patrons were invited to stay for the talk back following the show which would simply begin without a curtain speech. The play began relatively quietly with three cops hanging out in the diner sharing stories and then built to the crescendo of a suspenseful hostage drama. It was important to remember that the setting is firmly in the seventies in Chicago and the PSC has been planning to produce this piece for four years, but it became apparent during the talk back that the issues surrounding police officers and the public that were presented are certainly relevant today.
How the hostage situation unfolds is presented quite objectively, with some clear reasons why the characters behave as they do. The actors and director pointed out the importance of the relationship of trust that police partners share and how the hostage taker probably misinterpreted the action of the patrol office. In the end, the two detectives are simply not good cops. In addition, they have potty mouths and working pistols, so be forewarned that this gritty piece is not appropriate for children.
Ian Diedrich played what he called the “blowhard” detective named Jack Rolf in this “amazing” piece. His partner Bob was played by PSC frequent performer Rob Richnavsky, who also had a lot to do as the fight director. Both actors were both believable in these tricky roles, at times funny, at time cocky, at times terrified.
Kristen Jacobson, another PSC veteran, played the waitress at the diner who wants nothing more for her shift to end. Foster Evans Reese gave a riveting and loud performance in the very important role of the man who enters the diner; Mr. Reese noted after the opening night performances that he felt it was important to play this role.
Jonathon Ross was also convincing as the patrolman Gene Czerwicki, while Eric Wilczak made his PSC debut as the owner of the diner, George. Chuck Stango returned to the PSC to play Lt. Buchevski after he portrayed another customer at the counter. His “heavy lifting” was most definitely leading the talk back after the show, and the Stage Prosecutor carried that off with aplomb and some important background information.
Tony Benedetti played a cabby at the diner counter and Aric Martin’s character, listed as “Omelette Eater,” made the most of his one line. Mr. Bassett took on a massive job as the director of this play and was justifiably proud of this group of dedicated actors. He also provided the uber-seventies costumes and Agnes Dann was stage manager in addition to her catering duties.
If I can make it to another performance at former Clockwork Theater, I will know where to look during the first gunshots and how to see better what is going on behind the counter. I will have the benefit of hindsight for the histories of a couple of the characters and there is a possibility that I won’t jump as the shots are fired….although I probably will.
‘COPS’ runs through January 30 Fridays and Saturday at 8pm. There are no matinees.
Production photos by Sharon A. Wilcox