Where: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
When: through March 24
By ANNE SPISELMAN
The world premiere of “Six Corners” at American Blues Theater is guaranteed not to put your mind at ease about police malfeasance. In the third installment of playwright Keith Huff’s loosely knit “cop trilogy” (“A Steady Rain, “The Detective’s Wife”), miscarriage of justice piles on miscarriage of justice to create a moral quagmire in which no good turn goes unpunished and some good turns aren’t what they seem.
Unfortunately, very little rings true in the 90-minute one act, although it was inspired by a real incident, and Huff married into a family of cops so he knows the drill. This is basically a police procedural, but we’re assaulted by a barrage of information that muddies the procedures, and the witnesses behave in a completely implausible manner.
The action, peppered with local references, takes place at the Chicago District Police Headquarters at Belmont and Western avenues and in the surrounding “six corners” area (Milwaukee, Irving, and Cicero) including at the CTA station and, in flashbacks, on a bench near the Sears store. It’s late one night, and improbably, only two detectives are on duty, partners Nick Moroni (Peter DeFaria) and Bernadette Perez (Monica Orozco). They are investigating a shooting of a CTA worker on the train platform, and as they argue, insult each other, banter, and otherwise shoot the breeze about everything from Perez covering for Moroni’s bad shooting in the past to the sexual harassment complaints they’ve filed against each other, two good samaritans, Amanda Brackett (Brenda Barrie) and Carter Hutch (Manny Buckley), wait outside the office to be interviewed. They pulled the victim off the tracks, and he died propped up between them as they waited for the police to arrive.
Two more characters appear in flashbacks set several years earlier: Katie Yates (Lyric Sims), a lost seven year old waiting for her mother to find her, and B.J. Lyles (Byron Glenn Willis), an African American man with a long rap sheet who befriends her.
Clues connecting the dots among the characters soon emerge. In between discussing their bad marriages and the affair with each other they plan to start, Moroni and Perez discover that the shooting victim is B.J. Lyles. It also turns out that he had been arrested for the rape and murder of Katie Yates years before, but had been cut loose because the police didn’t follow the rules during his interrogation. In addition, we learn that Moroni had been involved in that case and had been transferred to his current post as a result.
While Moroni and Perez both consider Lyles to be scum and believe that his killing is not a coincidence, Amanda and Hutch are the keys to the unraveling of the case, though I have no intention of saying how. What is baffling is the way the playwright has them behave during questioning. The logical thing would be for them want to get out of there as quickly as possible, particularly since they’d already given statements at the scene of the crime. But instead, each indulges in philosophical musings and provocative statements that prolong the process. We also know—though the detectives don’t—that their claim not to have known each other before the incident is false.
The acting under Gary Griffin’s direction generally is strong, and Orozco is especially convincing as the hard-boiled Afghanistan vet Perez, but the thought that she and DeFaria’s immoral, racist, vulgar Moroni would embark on an affair is completely unbelievable. There’s not an ounce of chemistry between them.
Joe Schermoly’s scenic design more-or-less captures the feel of a police station and other locations, and Alexander Ridgers’ lighting includes an interesting simulation of an aerial view of the six corners neighborhood at night. Janice Pytel’s character-appropriate costumes, Lindsay Jones’ original music and sound design, and Mary O’Dowd’s props round out the technicals.
In the end, “Six Corners” leaves us with an unsolved mystery and the question of whether or not a series of wrongs can somehow add up to a right or at least a compassionate outcome. I found it flawed, frustrating, and very depressing. If this is the way our police departments really function, we’re in serious trouble.