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Keith Huff’s ‘Six Corners’ lacks the punch of its trilogy predecessors

Peter DeFaria stars as Nick Moroni and Monica Orozco as Bernadette Perez in American Blues Theater's "Six Corners." | Michael Brosilow

The most intriguing part of Keith Huff’s world-premiere drama “Six Corners” comes in the form of a statistic. It comprises but a few moments of the Chicago-set, 90-minute tale of two cops, two good Samaritans and two murders.

The stat comes as Area 22 Detectives Nick Moroni (Peter DeFaria) and Bernadette Perez (Monica Orozco) ruminate on Chicago murders. Annually, 70 percent of all reported murders go unsolved, the cops note. That translates to one and a half killings a day. Every year, nearly 550 bodies stack up, victims whose killers will probably never be brought to justice.

‘Six Corners’
★★
When: Through March 24
Where: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Tickets: $19-$49
Info: AmericanBluesTheater.com

It’s a staggering figure, one that seems custom-made as a launching pad for a taut, compelling cop drama.

Unfortunately, “Six Corners” never matches the stark tragedy represented by the statistic. As the final installment in Huff’s police trilogy, “Six Corners” doesn’t pack the visceral punch of 2007’s brilliant “A Steady Rain” or even the modest intrigue of 2011’s “The Detective’s Wife.”

Directed by Gary Griffin, the American Blues Theater production isn’t awful, but it is largely forgettable. Given the subject matter (and the stark, real-life numbers behind it), it seems a crime Huff’s latest doesn’t hit harder.

At the onset of “Six Corners,” we meet detectives Perez and Moroni plugging away through the night shift. A fairly simple death crosses their desks — a body has been reported at the Belmont and Western L stop. But what initially seems straightforward quickly becomes a labyrinthine morass in which ethics and justice are as slippery as freshly shed blood.

Huff falters in several ways. First, the detectives who take up most of the stage time have more baggage than there is at O’Hare during an all-flights-grounded snowstorm. Between the two, there is a history of sexual harassment claims, dubiously justified shootings, racism bad enough to warrant compliance training and at least three bad marriages.

In addition to the melodrama, Huff’s plot contains several nagging holes. Why, for instance, are Perez and Moroni the sole cops working this particular shift? There’s mention of a supervisor, who is clearly aware of the sexual heat between the two cops (and the allegations of sexual harassment). Yet here they are, alone in the middle of the night, working a murder case, unassisted.

Then, there ares the events of the case itself. The more information that is revealed, the more ludicrously unlikely it becomes. It ultimately adds up to a lurid potboiler that would be too cliched for the likes of even the old “Adam-12″ TV cop show.

Brenda Barrie as Amanda Brackett and Manny Buckley as Carter Hutch in  American Blues Theater’s “Six Corners.” | Michael Brosilow

Structurally, “Six Corners” needs work as well. The transitions between scenes are clunky where they need to be seamless. Set designer Joe Schermoly has created a marvelous backdrop of the city at night, but when the action shifts (as it often does) from office to investigation room to L stop, it’s stumbling rather than graceful.

What does work — albeit nominally, given the problems with the script — are the performances Griffin gets from his cast. As Moroni, DeFaria is believably weary, cynical and (mostly) well-intentioned. Orozco’s Perez is razor-sharp, tough as leather and capable of handling herself in the most fraught situations.

Manny Buckley and Brenda Barrie do fine work as Hutch and Amanda, witnesses to the L stop incident who know more than they initially reveal about the victim.

Finally, there are Byron Glenn Willis as a suspected murderer and Lyric Sims as his 8-year-old victim. So much of Willis’ dialogue feels forced and stilted that it’s difficult to gauge his performance. Sims, on the other hand, is a small wonder, a third -rader with skills that far exceed her years.

Huff has seeded “Six Corners” with local references, from Northwestern’s Center on Unlawful Convictions to the late, great Riverview Park.

But it needs more than authentic local color to work. Beyond a rather predictable commentary on the inevitability of moral compromise, “Six Corners” fails to make much of a mark.

Catey Sullivan is a  freelance writer.