Chicago Theater Review: SIX CORNERS (American Blues Theater at Stage 773)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 23, 2018

in Theater-Chicago

MESSING UP MURDER

The cops may be blue, the victims black, but in Six Corners the predominant color is gray. Marinating in moral relativism, this independent installment in Chicago playwright Keith Huff’s “cop trilogy” (also A Steady Rain and The Detective’s Wife) is an inside job in the best way. Huff, who married into a cop family and knows the skeletons in the closet, directly experienced the death at the heart of this one-act. Everything else here rings equally true.

Murder is always a sloppy sin — in means, motives, repercussions, and, most of all, solutions to make sense of uncertainty and deception. Gumshoe gritty, trenchantly lean and ambiguously anguished, Huff’s police dramas are Chicago parables of impurity. They’re urban legends come to life where mistakes metastasize and there’s no time, money or will for do-overs. Assurance, emotional or judicial, is in short supply.

In American Blues Theater’s 90-minute world premiere, unflinchingly staged by Gary Griffin, the locale is the Chicago District Police Headquarters at Belmont and Western. It’s the site of the old Riverview Amusement Park where you could “laugh your troubles away.” Not so here: The detectives of Area 22 Homicide successfully close only 38% of the killings they get. Justice is at a premium.

Late on a thuddingly ordinary night, two hardened dicks brag or and bait each other with water-cooler buddy banter — until their differences silence the small talk. A veteran of vice in more than one sense, Nick Moroni (Peter DeFaria) was transferred to the unit after a scandal involving a dead 16-year-old kid, planted evidence, ratting on a partner, an inquiry by Internal Affairs, and a city settlement for a messed-up investigation. An Iraq veteran, his by-the-numbers colleague Bernadette Perez (Monica Orozco) is hard-boiled but tough-loving. Refusing to consider herself a token “diversity hire,” she’s determined to make a difference. She’s not happy to be saddled with a possible dirty cop — or the wreckage of a case he couldn’t fix.

That involves the murder, several years before, of a 7-year-old girl (Lyric Sims) in which the defendant, a CTA worker named BJ Lyles (Byron Glenn Willis), got off due to police malfeasance. Huff offers teasingly terse flashbacks to that crime in progress, alternating with the real-time depiction of a suspicious death at the Western Avenue elevated stop (where six corners converge). The victim is known to the cops in the worst way. Two supposed Samaritans (Brenda Barrie and Manny Buckley) rescue this suddenly shot citizen. They get taken to the station house for independent interrogations that ignite with raw revelations.

It’s here that Six Corners, much like Showtime’s superb series The Chi, turns into a tragic tutorial in the law of unintended consequences and the pointlessness of payback. It’s also where any synopsis must stop in its tracks. It’s enough to say that on this turf accidents don’t happen, and (what seem like) coincidences don’t convince. Long ago, a Pandora’s box of mutual misunderstandings, racial profiling and life’s mind-boggling mysteries got opened and, well, contrary to the cliché, good deeds get punished.

Griffin’s taut tour-de-crime is played against set designer Joe Schermoly’s translucent panels, vaguely suggesting a subway platform or just cold city streetlights. It’s up to American Blues’ superb sextet to flesh out Huff’s authentic action portrait of violence feeding on itself. Given the clear and present danger of divulging Six Corners spoilers, it’s frustrating to want to praise these performances without risking giveaways. What is transparent is that, politics aside, there’s a rich pleasure in being fooled this well.

No public service announcement or Chamber of Commerce infomercial, Six Corners is also no Valentine to the justice system. But it’s more than just an in-house expose. The play works overtime to prove that even in Chi-town, however endangered by ignorance and fear, innocence exists. Protecting it from its protectors is a different matter.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Six Corners
American Blues Theater
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Wed – Fri at 7:30; Sat at 3 & 7:30; Sun at 2:30
ends on March 24, 2018
for tickets, call 773.327.5252
or visit American Blues Theater

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nikki Smith February 23, 2018 at 6:05 pm

Beautifully written review of a real, old-fashioned drama. Let us hoe that this is the beginning of the return of good theater to Chicago.

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