Set in Chicago in 1957, Tony Tortora’s Cops zooms in on four jaded police detectives trying to navigate a police force steeped in corruption and incompetence.
At a time when everyone is suspected of being in cahoots with the mob, the detectives are seemingly on the hunt for criminals, both among themselves and out in the streets. But all they really do is engage in endless banter that is freighted with racism, misogyny and unpalatable humour.
In Andy Jordan’s stagnant production, the central narrative of this extremely verbose play remains muddled and hazy; even the few moments of heightened action are weighted down with talk. It is no wonder that not much work gets done in this police station.
Anthony Lamble’s realistic set recreates in detail – and brings together – the detectives’ shared office and their stakeout locations. Robbie Butler’s dusty, dim lighting occasionally fills these spaces with necessary gloom, though the transitions tend to be clumsy.
With Tortora’s characters nearly indiscernible from stereotypes, the cast delivers mostly flat performances that border on parody. Some glimmers of depth and texture, however, can be found in Roger Alborough’s portrayal of the cynical and exasperated Stan, as well as in James Sobol Kelly’s take on the deceptively calm Eulee.
The play’s critique of police culture in America aims to touch on issues of racial and ethnic identity among officers, but its thematic gestures in this direction are significantly undercooked. What could have been a resonant piece for today is instead riddled with tedium.