note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
When The Debate Society theater company’s seemingly simplistic play about a small-town police department and community’s fulfilling the wish of dying young girl in the 1980s, appeared in New York City, it surprisingly captivated its city slicker patrons. At last Saturday’s sparsely-attended matinee at Stoneham Theatre, Artistic Director Weylin Symes and the hardworking cast of five concentrated so heavily on building suspense and raising flags among the characters and plot, the audience held onto every word and action, waiting for playwrights Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen and Oliver Butler’s purpose to surface.
In the final minutes, when all threads unravel, the solution is too subtle and rushed, raising more questions. Theatergoers must be watchful sleuths, piecing together every clue.
Nathan Leigh’s sound effects, which include piped-in music and voices, Jeff Adelberg’s dramatic lighting and Charlie Morgan’s cluttered, layered set intensify suspense in this slow-paced play.
Here’s the scene: set in the 1980s, the sleepy town of Shandon, Ind. endured a devastating flood two years previously that wiped out its police station, forcing officers to share space in the racquetball-recreation center. A mysterious undercurrent hovers in the air. Shandon’s three cops on duty --- veteran Don McMurchie (Jerry Bisantz), Terry Olsen (Paul Richard Yarborough) and Darlene Novak, rookie policewoman-narrator from Seattle, who was on the job only two weeks Melissa Baroni) --- busily answer the benevolently busy telephone and doorbell, accepting goodies from the community during the Christmas season. In between, they’re on the adjoining racquetball court.
Thing is, it’s August, not December. Townsfolk are creating Christmas for 12-year-old, Skylar, (Emily Sheeran) who is dying of cancer and not expected to survive. Don, who sings in an a cappella choir, will go caroling at Skylar’s house, while Darlene and Terry will create falling snowflakes with a snowmaker outside Skylar’s window. The town’s outpouring of generosity, caring and love is heartwarming. Even the governor and first lady are coming to town, to participate in a fundraiser, dedication and parade. Their young daughter, Brandi, (Francesca Rizzo), entertains, then cuts off her long, curly, dark hair to create a wig for Skylar.
Charlie Morgan incorporates a lighted, vertical box above the stage to highlight Brandi’s participation, a lively, sharp contrast to sickly, pasty-faced, Skylar, bedridden, in an upper, right side horizontal box.
Weakly, Skylar relates her “hallucinations” about a man dressed in red, with black teeth, who is always in her room. A demonic Santa Claus, perhaps? An ugly figment of her imagination? Skylar says he only comes to children like herself who won’t make it to Christmas. Later, in a prolonged pause, Skylar encounters Don, wearing a Santa Claus costume.
During the one-act, 85-minute play, facts about each character casually leak out.
Don’s leadership in the townwide event is overlooked, because authorities are investigating him for an out-of-state citation. Terry has a gambling “addiction” to a gamblingame called Bingo, and Darlene reveals she was married for three months and is divorced, Weeping, she says no longer has pets.
As Terry plays racquetball alongside Darlene and lazily hands off duties to her, he peruses his Playboy magazine, and shyly comes onto her. Later, Darlene says Terry introduced her to his best friend.
The racquetball sessions continue. Cakes, cookies, and presents keep coming, when suddenly, without warning, the play takes a sudden turn. Theatergoers must scan every detail, listen to every syllable, to digest this rapid shift. Darlene’s narration then fast-forwards to seven years later, as she fills in some of the blanks. “Buddy Cop 2” keeps theatergoers in anticipation, waiting for a bombshell that fizzles from intentional understatement.
BOX INFO: One-act, 85-minute play, written by Brooklyn-based The Debate Society theater company, in association with the Ontological Theater, making its New England premiere now through Nov. 6 (Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.) at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. There’s an additional senior matinee on Wednesday Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $44-$48; senior discounts; students, $20. Call 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.