When: Through Oct. 6
Where: Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Info: (773) 975-8150; www.stagelefttheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission
One way to consider Barbara Lhota’s play, “Warped,” now in its world premiere by Stage Left Theatre, is to think of it as “the poor sister play” to Keith Huff’s “A Steady Rain.”
Both dramas deal with a pair of Chicago cops (male) who allow themselves to be drawn into compromising positions. Both plays suggest what happens when flawed human beings come into contact with other flawed human beings, especially of the opposite sex. And both plays stretch believability considerably for dramatic impact.
Lhota’s “Warped,” directed by Jason A. Fleece, gives us far more overt action than Huff’s retrospective storytelling, and is not nearly as well-written. Instead of the precision-tooled personal confessions of the cops in Huff’s play, she gives us a pair of female police investigators who try to extract the truth with their questions. But the stories in “Warped” have a way of shifting, the audience is never quite sure exactly what transpired, and the investigators interpret the testimony with a considerable amount of subjectivity.
First, the setup: Police officer Hal Pajak (Mark Pracht) and his younger partner, Alex Vanson (Nick Mikula), are patrolling the Lake View neighborhood one night. Neither of them are in a good place relationship-wise, with Hal still smarting from a divorce and Alex having trouble with his girlfriend. And they are getting on each other’s nerves.
Then, wouldn’t you just know it, a sexy young twentysomething, Hope Farrell (the very watchable Kate Black-Spence), staggers in front of their car. She is either drunk, on drugs or psychotic — or some combination of the three, or something else entirely. She also is smart, and quite the operator, and as Alex tells her when she comes on to him in the most provocative ways, she is quite “the live wire.”
It doesn’t take long before the two men, failing to observe the most basic police procedures, decide to drive Hope home to her apartment in the “dangerous” Uptown area — leaving their assigned neighborhood and failing to call into headquarters to report what they are doing. Very bad moves, of course. And Hope — who calls herself “a vampire,” and threatens to blackmail them with mobile phone photos — ends up in bed with at least one of the men. She then lodges rape charges.
It is up to the two investigators — the veteran, Jules Rossi (Lisa Herceg), who happens to be a lesbian, and newcomer Kim Simon (Victoria Caciopoli) — to figure out who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth. They also have more unreliable from Josh Hawk (Max Ganet), the nerdy grad student who is Hope’s neighbor.
As a police procedural the play is full of holes. But it does have a certain Rashomon-like quality as it suggests the various versions of each character’s story. Black-Spence keeps you guessing about just who she really is, and what she wants (or doesn’t want), even if there is little doubt she and Mikula are hot for each other. And designers John Kohn III (lighting) and Adam Smith (sound), make those flashing red-and-blue light moments believably ominous.