September 20–October 11
The Seven Year Itch
George Axelrod

January 9–31
Crime and Punishment in America
Cops by Terry Curtis Fox and
Hello Out There by William Saroyan

March 19-22
American Century's
Broadway Hit Parade

compiled by Jack Marshall,
Tom Fuller, and Jacqueline Manger

July 17–August 8
Twelve Angry Men
Reginald Rose


Dedicated to mining the treasures of
20th century performing arts


REVIEWS

Cops

 

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

The Washington Post
American Century's Aim Is True in 'Cops'

By Celia Wren
Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gunfire. Cigarette smoking. Double helpings of apple pie. All sorts of insalubrious activity percolates in the diner setting of "Cops," Terry Curtis Fox's muscular 1976 drama.

Fortunately for audiences, however, the American Century Theater revival of "Cops," directed by Stephen Jarrett, turns out to have a clean bill of health.

The credit must go to Regen Wilson and Brian Razzino, who portray the drama's principal characters: a pair of jaded plainclothes officers working the late shift in 1978 Chicago. As they simulate slouching machismo, these actors display the kind of vitality and spontaneity that has often been missing in shows by TACT, a company dedicated to staging significant but neglected American plays. Backed up by an effective supporting cast, and buoyed by Jarrett's steady pacing, the two leads turn this 70-minute show into an atmospheric and very watchable shocker.

It helps, of course, that playwright Fox has given the performers some potent ammunition. Premiered at Chicago's Organic Theater Company, in a production that starred Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna, "Cops" is said to have heralded the era of the morally fraught, persuasively seedy police drama, including such televised fare as "The Wire" and "NYPD Blue." (Playwright Fox went on to write for "Hill Street Blues." Evidently a multi-talented guy, he now teaches at Western Carolina University and blogs for the Huffington Post.)

The play's law enforcement representatives are cynical, loutish bullies who are not inclined to get hung up on ethics. Their lax work attitude and philosophy of entitlement are largely at fault for the tragedy that the diner witnesses at 2 a.m.

Adroitly ratcheting up the sleaze factor in his portrait of officer Jack Rolf, Wilson adopts a slew of well-pitched mannerisms, including an incessant smirk, a hilarious way of pouring sugar into his coffee, and a Chicago accent on the scale of the Sears Tower. Whether aiming a gun or lolling aggressively in a chair, Razzino's gum-chewing version of Bob Barberson, Rolf's partner, is equally vivid. The duo banter crisply with the play's other figures, including John C. Bailey as a uniformed flatfoot, Honora Talbott as a sweet waitress and Rob Heckert as the diner's owner-cum-cook, whose evening becomes a whole lot more unpleasant than his usual stint over the deep-fryer. Bruce Follmer supplies a savory moment early on as a nameless Omelet Eater.

Before any of these Windy City night owls appear, Trena Weiss-Null's well-thought-out set communicates the essence of the play's unromantic vision. The decor of this greasy spoon is mundane and dowdy, right down to the authentic-looking salt shakers and napkin holders, the "No Checks" sign on the cash register and, on the outside of the counter, the dirty scuff marks left by the shoes of patrons perched on stools.

Designer Rip Claassen's working-class costumes -- including a suitably hideous shiny suit for Rolf -- fit right in with this visual aesthetic, whose seeming banality makes the play's ultimate explosion into violence all the more unnerving. After watching "Cops," in fact, you might have a qualm or two about entering your local diner -- and not just because of the calories in those home fries.

Cops, by Terry Curtis Fox. Directed by Stephen Jarrett; lighting, AnnMarie Castrigno; sound, Michael Null; properties, Karen Currie. With Bill Gordon and Shane Wallis. About 70 minutes. Through Jan. 26 at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington. Visit http://www.americancentury.org.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

Post Express
Stage: Off-Broadway Boys in Blue

By Johnathan Rickman
Thursday, January 11, 2008

TERRY CURTIS FOX's "Cops," about three Chicago policemen whose cutups over coffee at a late-night diner ignite a shootout with a customer, never made it to Broadway, but its debut in 1976 (a production of the Organic Theater Company in Chicago) was a watershed moment that changed the way America told tales of cops and robbers.

The play won over audiences with its gritty atmosphere and inspired the TV series "Hill Street Blues," making way for a new genre of police drama that depicted officers as complex, diverse individuals with the same predilection for corruption as the average bad guy.

Fox also cast his "finest" as racist, misogynistic toughs a common stereotype of policemen, but, to some, one not wholly untrue.

"Cops are profiling people all the time," Jack Marshall, artistic director of the American Century Theater, says. "It's insidious, but it's unavoidable for city police."

Marshall, whose company's production of "Cops" is playing currently at Arlington's Gunston Art Center, should know; he used to work closely with cops as a prosecuting attorney in Lowell, Mass.

The influential play conforms to his theater group's mission to present important but overlooked contemporary American theatrical works, but "Cops" was chosen for its impact.

"Theater at its best is a social force," Marshall says. "I'm curious how audiences will react to it and the issues it relates to today."

But "Cops" also has physical impact: real gunfire, real scrambled eggs and real bad potty mouth. The PC patrol is advised to walk another beat; adventurous theatergoers will enjoy this cop shocker.

Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington; through Jan. 26, $23-$29; 703 998-4555, americancentury.org.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

Potomac Stages
Cops
A Potomac Stages Pick for a taught and realistic police drama

By Brad Hathaway

We have spent decades watching police shows on television, from documentaries like the "reality TV" show that shares the title of this drama and which is televised on the network that shares the name of this show's author, Terry Curtis Fox, to Hill Street Blues for which that author would write episodes after moving from stage to TV. The idea of an armed thug in a shoot out with world weary members of the brotherhood of blue is no longer quite as foreign to the "entertainment business" as it once was. For that, we may well have Fox to thank ... both Terry Curtis Fox and Fox the Network. But there is a real difference between witnessing enactment of such violence safely separated from the action by the glass front of a television screen or even the massive magnification of the large screen at the local cinema, and actually being in the room where it is happening. Such is the magic of live theater. It is still fiction, and the real people are still actors, but when it is done as well as it is here, it triggers rushes of adrenalin which get your heart pumping nonetheless.

Storyline: At two o'clock in the morning there isn't much stirring at an all-night dinner in Chicago. Just a very few customers, a short order cook, a waitress who wants nothing so much as to call it a night, and a few late night cops trading stories of life on the force. Then one customer pulls a gun and takes a hostage. In a flash lives are lost, others are changed and those remaining alive have to make quick decisions on which other lives may depend.

This is pure police drama, not crime drama. It isn't concerned with the conditions on the street, the causes of crime nor the plight of the victims. It is also completely devoid of any whodunit tease or intriguing mystery. It is the life and code of police officers that is at issue here and the way even those who may snipe at each other unmercifully in times of the routine and the mundane can close ranks in a heart beat and become a unified reaction to an external threat. Director Stephen Jarrett takes his cue from the instant the night of boredom turns to anguish. It happens so fast that it is like a knife edge separating two different slices of real life. Jarrett paces the one slice at a slow drawl with just enough punch in the punch lines of the cops stories to make them real. The other slice is so intense it seems to run at double speed except at those moments of uncertainty when the struggle between the shooter and the officers could go either way.

Brian Razzino and Regan Wilson play the plain clothes detectives stopping in for some of the caffeine of coffee kept hot on the burner for far too long, and the sugar of a slice of apple pie. Razzino's is the sharper cop who exudes a sense of command even when fatigued, while Wilson is unconcernedly frumpy and confident of his worth and not above delivering a good natured ribbing. John C. Bailey, as a uniformed cop confident that he knows his beat better than anyone, is often the recipient of that ribbing. They while away some of the wee hours of the morning together before the mayhem erupts.

To invoke the feel of "reality TV" Trena Weiss-Null has created a set that feels very much like a rundown diner in an urban locale like North Side Chicago. Dishes, dented pots and pans, a tinny cash register, banged up tables and chairs - it all feels just right. You can almost smell the grease on short order cook Rob Heckert's range. You most definitely can smell the smoke of everyone's seemingly ever present cigarette. And Rip Claassen has provided costumes that feel very lived in - as everything does at 2:00 am. The sense of reality is part of the reason the burst of violence strikes with such force.

Written by Terry Curtis Fox. Directed by Stephen Jarrett. Design: Trena Weiss-Null (set) Rip Claassen (costumes) Karen Currie (properties) AnnMarie Castrigno (lights) Michael Null (technical direction and sound) Jeffrey Bell (photography) Alicia Oliver (stage manager). Cast: John C. Bailey, Bruce Follmer, Bill Gordon, Rob Heckert, Brian Razzino, Honora Talbot, Shane Wallis, Regan Wilson.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

Talkin' Broadway
Cops

By Susan Berlin

According to American Century Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, its current production of Cops is a Washington area premiere. This 1976 play a gritty, real-time examination of Chicago cops faced with a morally compromising situation is an interesting work on its own, but perhaps more noteworthy for its influence on depictions of police officers in popular culture. Specifically, playwright Terry Curtis Fox and original cast member Dennis Franz went on to play important roles in Hill Street Blues, the 1980s television series that rewrote the rules for police drama.

Scenic designer Trena Weiss-Null brings the audience inside a shabby Chicago diner at 2 a.m. on a rainy night in 1978, with a vividly detailed set including scuff marks on the floor, seedy pink covers on the counter stools, and a working stove. George (Rob Heckert), the harried owner, and Mickey (Honora Talbot), the exhausted waitress, are serving a couple of regulars when cocky Jack Rolf (Regen Wilson) barrels in and parks himself on a stool, inadvertently sitting on a hat placed there by one of the regulars. The interplay between Rolf and the owner of the hat (Bill Gordon), followed by the arrival of the more reserved Bob Barberson (Brian Razzino) to break up the disagreement, suggest a farcical look at law enforcement, but it's just a way to blindside the audience before the rougher circumstances take over.

Rolf and Barberson are plainclothes police, soon joined in the diner by uniformed cop Gene Czerwicki (John C. Bailey). They communicate in a rough, profane shorthand that shows no special concern for people of different races, ethnic groups, sexes or sexual orientations. (Cops was written around the same time that David Mamet, also starting out in Chicago, began making poetry out of profanity.) Basically, it's late, the weather is miserable and they're bored.

The situation changes in a moment with the appearance of a stranger (Shane Wallis) who happens to be carrying a loaded gun. Suddenly the audience is right in the thick of a hostage situation, pinned down like the diner owner behind the counter and the officers attempting to barricade themselves behind tables.

Director Stephen Jarrett keeps the 75 minutes of action taut, tense and realistic, and the actors work as a notable ensemble. Wilson makes the most of his role as a show-off who becomes all business when the going gets tough, while Talbot brings quiet humanity as an innocent person caught in the middle.

American Century Theater
Cops
January 4th 26th
By Terry Curtis Fox
Omelet Eater: Bruce Follmer
Mickey: Honora Talbot
George: Rob Heckert
Cab Driver, Lt. Buchevski: Bill Gordon
Jack Rolf: Regen Wilson
Bob Barberson: Brian Razzino
Gene Czerwicki: John C. Bailey
Customer: Shane Wallis
Directed by Stephen Jarrett
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: www.americancentury.org

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

DelRay Sun
Cops: Arresting Theater at TACT

By Robbie Thornton
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cops, the current production at The American Century Theater, is not the companys usual fare for several reasons, the first of which is apparent as soon as the doors open. With the configuration of the black box of Gunstons Theater II for this show, entering the theater feels as if one is entering a diner. A convincing lunch counter is straight ahead and the checkerboard tiles of the floor seem to extend into the house.

Trena Weis-Nulls diner set, where the action takes place in real time, is probably the most realistic that TACT has presented. With audience seating a few feet away from the diners tables and with the counter running nearly the length of the back wall, the sense of peering through a fourth wall is uniquely powerful, particularly when the shooting begins.

Not to give away too much, (although it wouldnt likely matter) this violent, obscenity-riddled show, is a realistic production, with the genuinely funny opening scene abruptly turning to bloodshed and violence in the blink of an eye.

In his notes, producer Jack Marshall raises the question of how this show fulfills the theaters mission of presenting great, important and neglected works of the Twentieth Century, plays that challenge and move all citizens.

I dont know that Cops is great, although the opening scene is captivatingly funny. The repetition of the famous four letter interjection (adjective, noun, verb) is so intrusive as to both batter the ears and becomes unheard through overkill. It also is the way guys talk, at least macho guys and wannabe macho guys of a certain vintage. From personal experience I can attest that cops and military enlisted men in the 70s used the word liberally among themselves. It was a less sensitive time. So, from that point of view, the obscene bludgeoning provides a slice a reality of the era.

It also limns the distrust of police that burgeoned in the sixties and grew into the seventies. From the point of view of capturing some of the uglier aspects of the epoch, then, the play deserves resurrection, and the opening hat scene.

As entertainment, the top of the show is top flight. Timing is impeccable and Jack Rolf (Regen Wilson) is utterly convincing as a sarcastic cop with a chip on his shoulder. A perfect boor, he has captured the timing, phrasing and expressions of a bully. That he happens to be a detective is only coincidence. On opening night, his partner, Bob, had a rougher beginning, as he felt his way into the part. After the first ten minutes, however, he is entirely believable.

Ironically, the least convincing actor in the early scenes is the only real policeman in the cast. Former police officer Bob Heckart as George seems as uncomfortable in his characters skin as Wilson is comfortable in his. After the complication, though, he becomes convincing as a helpless character.

The cab driver (Bill Gordon) serves as a perfect foil for Rolfs bullying in the opening scene, and Mickey, (Honora Talbott) is convincing as a waitress who is equal parts bored and mildly amused by the antics of her regular customers.

As Rolfs partner, Bob Barberson, Brian Razzino starts a little self-consciously but soon settles into the role. Rolf and Barberson find the right combination of cynicism and morbid humor to make them a credible pair of detectives. When the initial tension and subsequent banter begin to settle into what threatens to become a dialogue between the two, patrol officer Gene Czerwicki (John C. Bailey) bursts onto the scene with a new perspective of walking the blue line. A combination of Jackie Gleason and General Patton, Czerwinskis performance sparkled.

As the pivotal unnamed customer, Shane Wallis adds depth to the production as his character evolves from defensive hothead to simpering victim.

Cops is one the most consistent performances from TACT in some time. Funny, tense, startling and riddled with obscenity, it shows the steady hand of director Stephen Jarrett, who knows his business.

Kudos also to voice coach Jason Beagle. Although I am far from an expert in Chicagoese, the flat vowels and cadences certainly sounded convincing.

Running time for the play is about an hour and a half, and it left some audience members muttering about overuse of the F word and others unsettled about the message of the final moments. The gunshots and cigarette smoke were annoying, but so is life, and that is what this show reveals to its audience.

It wont be everybodys cup of tea (and leave gran and junior at home unless you want to squirm and sweat) but it is good theater.

Cops runs through January 26, Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
The American Century Theater
Gunston Theater II
2700 South Lang Street, Arlington.
For tickets call 703/998-4555 or go to www.americancentury.org/tickets.php.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

ShowBizRadio
American Century Theater Cops

By Laura & Mike Clark
Sunday, January 6, 2008

Laura: This is the ShowBizRadio.net review of Cops, performed by the American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia. Mike and I saw the performance on Saturday, January 5, 2008.

Mike: Cops was probably the most intense show I have ever seen. I can not remember ever being as nervous or as on the edge of my seat about what was going to happen next. At times it was a little scary about what was going on on stage.

Laura: This was a well acted show, but a very angry show. The cops were real and extremely human. Their thoughts and emotions were very real in the events that happened during the evening at the diner.

Mike: Cops is a play written by Terry Curtis Fox in 1976. The play realistically depicts a brief, violent, and disturbing encounter between a bungling criminal and three police officers in a Chicago diner. We are introduced to two hard working detectives who are trying to get out of the rain and stop in at the neighborhood diner. We get to know the cook, the waitress, and a couple customers. A third policeman comes in and they are having a good time chatting when another customer enters the diner.

Laura: One of the two cops was Jack Rolf, played by Regan Wilson. He did a very good job. He seemed to be kind of angry and very cynical. He has seen enough death and been on the force long enough to be jaded with the world.

Mike: I do think that Jack Rolf, although a cop, really liked the power that being a cop brought him. We get introduced to him early on before we know he is a cop. He kind of plays a head game with the taxi driver who was in the diner. He loved the sense of power that he got from playing the mind games that he did.

His partner Bob Barberson, played by Brian Razzino, was kind of like opposites attract. You could definitely see the good cop/bad cop when they were interrogating people. I could see them doing that sort of thing out on the street somewhere. They definitely had that camaraderie of the stories to one up each other and to keep everybody in line.

I did like how Razzino made Barberson very human. He was able to express his doubts about career decisions and what was best for his family. I liked the byplay he had with Mickey the waitress, played by Honora Talbot, and the cook, George, played by Rob Heckert.

Laura: Barberson was very much the smooth talker. When he was interrogating the cab driver who had his hat sat on, he was easy going, but at the same time you could see the jibes and the sarcasm in his voice and his actions.

Mike: Cops had lots of subtleties to it. One of the key subtleties was in the sound. The Sound Designer was Michael Null. What happened was it was a rainy night in Chicago and you could hear the rain off to the left and the right of the audience. Later there were police sirens coming from different directions. During the scene before anything really happened you had background noises from the street which included police sirens and ambulances. Once you had police vehicles gathered at the diner, you could hear the squawking of their radios together. I really think the sound effects added a lot to the show.

Laura: I liked the set for Cops. I thought it was realistic. The Set Designer was Trena Weiss-Null. It was a realistic working kitchen. You could see lots of business in the background that didnt distract from the conversations going on out front. It was actually kind of comforting to have everyday work going on in the background.

Mike: Cops was a very solid production. You do need to be aware that there is very strong adult language; lots of four letter words, lots of adult situations being discussed. There is a fair amount of violence in the show. The show ran about an hour and fifteen minutes long with no intermission. There is about twenty five minutes of drama in this that is among the most intense drama that I have ever seen.

Laura: Cops is playing through January 26th at the Gunston Theatre Two in Arlington, Virginia.

Mike: Wed like to invite you to join our free mailing list so you can get a weekly summary of things weve written.

Laura: And now, on with the show.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

Review4U

By Bob Anthony

The American Century Theater's "Cops" , a 1976 detective play by Terry Curtis Fox, is probably the "rawest" 90 minutes of language and action you will ever see presented on stage. The three main actors, Brian Razzino, John Bailey and Regen Wilson are incomparable in developing extremely natural characters with their crude teasing and comic one liners along with violent emotional drumming in the climactic scene. They are finely supported by fellow actors: Bruce Folmer, Bill Gordon (off stage),Rob Heckart, Honora Talbottand expecially Shane Wallis as a totally explosive criminal. The set by Trena Weiss-Null was a perfect starkly-decorated diner outside of central Chicago and the sound by Michael Null constantly gave the audience the ominous sounds of the city. It was well directed by Stephen Jarrett however he violated the "suspension of disbelief" by having some blank (!)shots directed into the audience and allowing two dead actors to breath onstage after being declared dead. Certainly the actors could have been positioned so shots were directed into the wings and table cloths could have been draped over the dead bodies. Nevertheless, for a mostly anecdotal script, there was never a dull dramatic moment on stage. Chidren should not attend nor people who don't like perversity in language and inferred action. (To 1/26)

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

DC Theater Scene
Cops

By Steven McKnight
Thursday, January 10, 2008

News flash! Police officers can be complicated, flawed, and even corrupt human beings at times. While that revelation may not strike you as particularly compelling or controversial, it had more force in 1976 when Cops, the new production at American Century Theater, was first staged. Absent that impact, the audience is left with an earnest and professional production of a flawed play that, while containing moments of humor and tension, ultimately amounts to a misfire.

Cops aspires to be a realistic, gritty, and ultimately shocking portrayal of police officers Set in a Chicago diner, the first half of the play consists of a long character piece revolving around two cynical and world-weary detectives, Jack Rolf (Regen Wilson) and Bob Barberson (Brian Razziono). We see them bullying, cursing, drinking, gambling, and engaging in bigoted discussions using the realistic yet stylistic form of street dialogue often associated with David Mamet. While Mr. Razziono shows some balanced restraint in handling his role, Mr. Wilsons portrayal is so broad that it approaches caricature.

The opening section of the play has some entertaining scenes, especially an initial confrontation with a comically frustrated cab driver (Bill Gordon) who is the victim of police abuse. The long setup starts to drag despite some fine supporting work by Rob Heckart as George, the diners owner and detective admirer, and John C. Bailey, who nails his role as a uniformed patrolman.

In the second half of the play, events in the dinner suddenly spiral into a violent confrontation with a suspicious loner. Gunfire ensues and a hostage-taking standoff results. While this portion is initially gripping, the play descends into contradictory dialogue and illogical actions that undermine the dramatic force of the story.

Cops was written by Terry Curtis Fox, who later gained fame as a writer and story editor for the acclaimed TV series Hill Street Blues. The original Chicago production, with cast members including Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna, won considerable acclaim and traveled to New York.

While the Artistic Director defends Cops as a worthy play because of its influential role in ushering in a new era of realism in handling police stories, this claim is overstated. A few years previously movie audiences had already seen a police protagonist portrayed as an alcoholic short-tempered bigot [Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (1971)] as well as a story featuring rampant police corruption [Serpico (1973)]. On TV, Joseph Wambaughs classic anthology series Police Story (1973-77) had already torn down most of the barriers to realistic portrayal of police officers in an urban environment.

Once the value of the play as a historical piece is put aside, the audience is left with an inconsistent work that feels padded and ultimately contrived. Absurdities include a long distance exchange of cigarettes and lighter early in the shootout, crouching behind chairs that offer no protection or disguise, some contradictory dialogue, and a final resolution that is unrealistically written. When one of the detectives argues with the gunman in a way that makes him less likely to surrender peacefully, its hard to avoid rolling ones eyes.

Director Stephen Jarrett does his best to cover up the flaws in the script and he is aided by a talented production staff. The Chicago diner created by set designer Trena Weiss-Null is utterly convincing and Michael Nulls sound design enhances the work. Still, police stories are rare on stage because they arent nearly as well-suited to a single set piece as mysteries or legal dramas.

Ultimately, the best audience for this work might be the type of people who enjoy horror movies. If you can overlook the absurd ways victims put themselves at risk and you enjoy the tension and violence, even when you can see the surprise ending fifteen minutes in advance, Cops has some entertainment value. On the other hand, if you have a relentlessly logical mind that makes it hard to enjoy implausible actions, you should probably stay home and watch some of the superior police dramas available on television.

Warning: Play contains harsh language, loud gunfire, intense onstage violence, and smoking.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

DCist
Bad Plays, Bad Plays; Watcha Gonna Do?: Cops at ACT

By Chris Klimek
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Probably no single profession has been more analyzed, mythologized, deconstructed, vilified, or venerated by TV and the movies than that of the Big City Cop. In the late 60s and 70s, with Vietnam and civil rights and Watergate causing Americans to look at virtually every aspect of government with growing skepticism, fictitious portrayals of lawmen darkened to suit the times. The best modern dramatizations of police work focus on its endless potential to corrupt those who practice it (The Shield) or its frequent tedium and futility (The Wire).

Which brings us to Cops, American Century Theatres earnest, well-mounted, nicely-acted production of Terry Curtis Foxs 1976 off-Broadway police play. It would be very easy for this allegedly gritty and certainly profane pastiche to have come out resembling the Max Fischer Players' production of Serpico, as seen all-too-briefly in Rushmore. But it ducks that with strong performances and high production values. Brian Razzino and Regen Wilson, as a pair of waitress-abusing Chicago detectives on the night shift, are both first-rate. The brio they bring to their roles isn't surprising -- what actor doesn't want to wear a gun and a badge and swagger around talking with a Chicago accent? -- but they're committed, funny, and believable. And the gunplay I hope Im not giving too much away by noting theres more than a little of it is visceral and convincing.

Shame about the play, though.

Really, it's more like a skit. There's less going on here than in a typical episode of NYPD Blue even in one of its lame later seasons. Dennis Franz, who emerged as the real star of that long-lived TV show while a parade of better-looking leading men came and went, starred with Joe Mantegna in the original 1976 production of Cops at Chicago's Organic Theatre Company. Later, he had a long run on Hill Street Blues, the celebrated 80s TV police drama on which Fox worked as a story editor. (Fox now blogs for The Huffington Post.)

It's clear from ACT Artistic Director Jack Marshall's program notes that he considers Cops to be a watershed moment in the progression of police drama from the foursquare clarity of Dragnet to the moral vagaries of The Shield. We say: Come on, now. Cops takes the attitude and the wardrobe and the lingo of other, better, police stories, but none of the ideas. None of the hard choices that police work, at least according to its more thorough fictional portrayals, really involves. So little actually happens in this show that even the most threadbare synopsis would constitute major spoilerage, so out of respect to the director and performers, who have done their jobs honorably and well, we'll say only that its set in an all-night diner.

Marshall's notes defend the play as groundbreaking in its depiction of "the complex moral conflicts endemic to police work." (He says that an actor announced at the auditions that he thought the play vile, and that a frequent ACT patron wrote to protest its selection.) Reading all this, one ends up expecting a different play than the one we get, which simply is neither raw enough nor absorbing enough to warrant the fuss. Meanwhile, the claim that audiences of 1976 were shocked, shocked by the notion that police sometimes break the law themselves seems laughable -- unless you think theater crowds never go to the movies.

Don Siegels Dirty Harry and William Friedkins The French Connection, both came out within a couple of months of one another at the end of 1971 half a decade before Cops and both were huge hits. The French Connection swept that year's Academy Awards, taking home Oscars for best screenplay, direction, editing, Best Actor (for Gene Hackman's performance has the NYPD's "Popeye" Doyle) and Best Picture. Both films gave us scenarios in which their protagonists must choose to serve the letter of the law or their own, possibly flawed, sense of justice. True, they didn't appear to agonize over these decisions -- but their audiences sure were split over whether to cheer their gloves-off methods. You could argue that these pictures glamorized police work, but if they did, they also portrayed it mostly as a thankless, exhausting, lonely, difficult job. Dirty Harry ends with its titular antihero chucking his badge away in frustration. (He apparently changed his mind soon after, as he'd be back on the beat for no less than four sequels -- but not before the disgusted badge-toss became an instant cop-movie clich, copied in Point Break, among others.)

By the time Fox sat down to write Cops, the world had seen police corruption and/or brutality depicted frankly in movies like Serpico, The Seven-Ups, and 1975's big Oscar-winner, Dog Day Afternoon. All of which is to say that Cops was almost as unremarkable in 1976 as it is in 2008. What meager drama it offers is of the damsel-tied-the-tracks-with-a-train-bearing-down variety -- the tough calls that police really do face simply aren't here.

Again, its well-acted and cannily staged, and over quickly enough that you can still catch a movie with your evening if this leaves you starved for drama. But you know what they say about lipstick on a pig.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes

City Paper
Cops

By Glen Weldon
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

By the time Terry Curtis Foxs one-act play Cops appeared in 1976, the Adam-12 school of cop drama was already on its last pair of Brogans. No longer did clean-cut, lantern-jawed patrolmen steer their black-and-whites through an equally monochromatic moral universe. Writers like Joseph Wambaugh had murked things up nicely by then with more realistic depictions of violence, profanity and police corruption. Fox, who went on to work on Hill Street Blues, wasnt the first, or best, writer to attempt to bring this grubbier sensibility to the stage, but inasmuch as Cops can be said to represent the transition from the era of Joe Friday to that of Jimmy McNulty, its an interesting, unpretentious little piece of theater thats over in 75 minutes. You wont find much in it thats particularly novel or profound, but dont go telling that to American Centurys production, which seems convinced that the shows a precious and unjustly overlooked gem. It takes the show about half the running time to get over that; in the early going, director Stephen Jarrett and his two leads (Regen Wilson and Brian Razzino) approach Foxs dialogue with an awed reverence it never really merits. We spend long minutes watching Wilson and Razzino hurl themselves into the script as if each line were an intricately wrought masterpiece of Mametspeak, or a wild, woolly, reference-packed Tarantino riff, but Foxs stuff is more workmanlike and demands a lighter, less go-for-broke touch. When he enters about midway through, John C. Bailey also goes big, but he manages to make it work because that choice seems specifically matched to his character, a beat cop given to long streams of florid invective. Its right about then that the bullets start flying, which is legitimately startling (and, in Gunstons intimate space, fucking loud) and which introduces a welcome, though given the multiple gun barrels aimed at multiple heads, perhaps inevitable suspense. Yet even here the productions deliberate pacing occasionally causes the tension to slacken, which is damned puzzling (because: Guns! Heads!) and the last few minutes, which must have seemed unusual and unsettling in 1976, are now neither. In fact, theres a lot about the show that seems familiar, but given the playwrights long career in television, it isnt really surprising that Cops, um, isnt really surprising. What it is, though, is solidly built. And after all, the writers strike means it may be months before we see any fresh Law and Order franchises, including the lousy one thats always about panties.

redbox.gif - 47 Bytes