The Debate Society at the Ontological

Saturday night took us to the Ontological to go see The Debate Society‘s BUDDY COP 2. This is the third play in TDS’s Americana Trilogy, following The Eaten Heart and Cape Disappointment.  In this one, Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen play Darlene Novak and Terry Olsen, two police officers the small Indiana town of Shandon. Nothing much happens there, except for the fact that the town has kept an ongoing vigil for a little girl with cancer named Skylar (Monique Vukovic, who doubles as Skylar’s counterpart, the governor’s daughter Brandi).  For some reason that I didn’t quite discern, it is almost Christmas, though the play is set in July.  It has something to do with the dying girl. A recent flood has wiped out the police station, so they’ve taken up offices in the community recreation center where they spend their time dealing with petty crimes and practical jokes or playing racquetball.

Bos’s Darlene is recently divorced and has moved to the tiny town of Shandon to start over. Thureen’s Terry is a congenial, nice guy with a bit of a crush on the new cop and a bit of a bingo addiction. Michael Cyril Creighton is understatedly hilarious as a third cop, Don McMurchie, whose aspirations towards authority are constantly thwarted by his own ineffectiveness.

The Debate Society has a weird, gentle sense of humor and the portrait they paint of these small town cops is both affectionate and absurd. It kind of reminds of the movie Fargo, it also reminds me of a show I saw back in 1997 –  The Little Frieda Mysteries by David and Amy Sedaris’s theater company, the Talent Family , at LaMama. I’m not sure why. Something about the ability to send-up small town ways while maintaining a certain respect for the characters as people.

Buddy Cop 2 is a really enjoyable show  and probably TDS’s most accessible presentation to date. The production values are fantastic and the performances are all excellent. If you haven’t seen The Debate Society before, it is a good introduction to their work. I have to admit, I found it a little slight compared to The Eaten Heart and Cape Disappointment.  I usually don’t say this but I actually wish the show had been longer and that they had explored some of the plot lines a little further. On the one hand, it was tantalizingly oblique and mysterious, on the other hand it seemed to wrap up too quickly and neatly. Like I said, it is their most accessible show (in my book) and I guess I wanted a little more weirdness.  But that’s just me.  Regardless of what I think you should go check it out for yourself.

Seriously – go check it out!

And I say that for a reason. For the life of me I can’t figure out why the Debate Society has yet to garner the attention it deserves. Part of me thinks it is because they fall into a space somewhere between experimental and traditional theater. Maybe it is because while they develop work as an ensemble it tends to look less like “devised” theater and more like a play. Maybe it is because, rather than taking on Big Ideas they focus on these smaller, human-sized stories. But I think it is by paying attention to the whimsical, magical and humorous bits amidst the mundane that makes TDS so fascinating and makes the work so rich. And considering how many times I’ve taken a cudgel to the cranium from some overbearing playwright/director/ensemble who are hellbent on proving how Smart and/or Important they are, it is a relief to feel like you’re having a conversation with a show, not being yelled at.

So go see Buddy Cop 2, it is running at the Ontological through June 12.

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