One happy outcome of the whirlwind of APAP activity in the New York City performance community this month, as Alexis Clements wrote here yesterday, is the opportunity to catch past shows in brief revivals, which is what I was able to do last night at Atlantic Stage 2, where the Brooklyn-based trio The Debate Society have mounted an encore run of their hit show from last summer Buddy Cop 2 (through Thursday January 13).
Back in September, when The Debate Society (Hannah Bos, Oliver Butler and Paul Thureen) was featured as one of our Ten Young Artists You Should Know, we described Buddy Cop 2 as a “clever, half-parody yet completely earnest police procedural,” although seeing it now the parody seems all the more underplayed, and the relationships between cops Darlene (Bos), Terry (Thureen) and Don (Michael Cyril Creighton) very much the focus. They are three of the four cops (the fourth, their chief, is away on vacation) in a small Midwestern town that was flooded two years prior, so the rec center is serving as a provisional police station, with a raquetball court right outside their office where Darlene and Terry volley throughout the show. (That drum-like banging as the audience finds its seats is them, playing a pre-show match.)
Though it would be easy to play the Anytown cops for Super Troopers-style slapstick, Buddy Cop 2 avoids cheap laughs, developing its retro trio (the play is set in the 90s, with compulsory mustaches and sweaters) with murky backgrounds, irrepressible weaknesses and needs. The high-strung Don, swaggering Terry and newly arrived Darlene are besieged with calls and Christmas gifts, not because it’s actually Christmas time, but because the entire town is transfixed with the story of Skylar (Monique Vukovic), a little girl who has cancer and might not make it through the month. The town is celebrating Christmas in August for her; her gift list to Santa has been published in the local paper; and the governor, his wife and their daughter Brandi (also Vukovic) are coming to town to take part in the collective mood of goodwill.
As Skylar’s Christmas approaches there’s a twist for the worst, which I won’t ruin, while relations inside the station progress for the better as the trio becomes closer. Laura Jellinek’s excellent set matches the tremendous levels of detail in the performances with not-too-precious texture. A few notes of magical realism—Skylar and Brandi addressing the audience during interludes between station house scenes—punctuate an otherwise realistic show, however quirky. Playing against the expectations conjured by its action movie parody title, Buddy Cop 2‘s dimensions are very much down to earth, its sensitive ideas about the frailty of goodwill within tight-knit communities, our desire for collective catharsis and Americans’ tendency to take everything to grotesque extremes smuggled in with almost imperceptible subtlety, while still affording the types of magical stage moments you’d expect from a quasi-Christmas play. Whatever The Debate Society is up to next will surely be a must-see, even if it’s Buddy Cop 3.
Buddy Cop 2 continues at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Thursday, tickets here. Photo credit: Ian Savage.