Buddy Cop 2
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
May 20, 2010
If Americans love anything more than apple pie, it's the action packed films of the buddy-cop genre. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. Bruce Willis and the guy from the Apple commercials. We've all seen them. Two police officers, normally polar opposites (e.g., by-the-book vs. loose cannon), struggle to find cohesion between each other only to be banded together in the face of a high-flying, flame-filled crisis. Add to this the fact that if anything in the characters' world can go wrong, it is sure to happen when the cameras are rolling. This is the way these stories always go, leading audiences to expect the plot lines and tricks they're accustomed to seeing. The way in which Buddy Cop 2 refuses to hand over any of the "edge of your seat" moments traditionally obligated by this genre is maybe frustrating at first, but by the end, a brilliant choice. It's a wonderfully entertaining act of subversion, carried along by four terrific performances and the most creative set I've seen in a theatre this size.
In the small Indiana town in which Buddy Cop 2 takes place, there isn't much going on in the way of real police work. The station closes at midnight and townsfolk are free to drop in with Christmas gifts, ranging from hard liquor to watermelons. This absence of present danger is just one of many places The Debate Society's play subverts the buddy cop/action genre. Instead of defusing a bomb or sweating through a high-stakes bank heist, the cops here play bingo, hint at failed relationships, and involve themselves knee-deep in the effort to save young Skylar, a local girl dying of leukemia.
What makes this work so unique is that while the title may scream ACTION-PACKED, in truth, very little happens. We are constantly being set up as if something big is about to occur (regular phone calls, door knocks, a suspicious package). None of these moments, however, develops into anything even remotely out of the ordinary. Of course, in a town this size, this makes perfect sense. Nothing should happen. Instead, what the audience is offered is an entertaining snapshot of the world of this police department, and specifically, the developing relationship of new cop Darlene Novak and easygoing veteran Terry Olsen. Certainly this approach is a dangerous one. If the performances are dull, and the characters poorly defined, then the play quickly moves from curious to boring. Luckily, audiences here are treated to funny, charming, and perfectly pitched work by Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen, and Michael Cyril Creighton, and a powerful closing scene anchored by Monique Vukovic.
The way the actors embody their characters and the text is exciting to witness, but without the set of Laura Jellinek, it's hard to imagine that they would feel so at home in their world as they appear to be here. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that Jellinek's set is full of every detail and nuance one could imagine in a small-town police station without ever crossing into "theatre's version of a police station." The odd layout, vivid colors, and delightful surprises all work together to support these very curious characters in a way that few sets are able to accomplish. The set design is further enhanced by the precise lighting of Mike Riggs and the quirky, ever-present sound design of Nathan Leigh. No spoilers here: just be at Buddy Cop 2 on time, because to miss this set's big reveal at the play's opening would be unforgivable.