Since Richard Foreman first requisitioned the Ontological Theater in St. Mark’s Church in 1992, the space has witnessed lavish set pieces, including gigantic animals, sinister wheels, occult lettering, and enough wire and string to booby-trap all of Lower Manhattan. But with Foreman having departed, a series of younger artists are now tasked with transforming the theater, and the latest play at the Incubator, the Debate Society’s Buddy Cop 2, renders it wonderfully unrecognizable.
A wrapping-paper curtain opens to reveal the interior of a small-town Indiana police department, ornamented with Christmas decorations. Trouble is, it’s not anywhere near Christmas, and the presence of a racquetball court just outside the squad room leads one character to ask, “Is this a real police station?”
In Buddy Cop 2, the Debate Society have taken a policier and fitted it for the stage. (Think Ed McBain gone American Gothic. With eye guards.) As in some of their previous shows (Cape Disappointment, The Eaten Heart), the story on display seems more cinematic or novelistic than dramatic, but who would cavil over matters of form when director Oliver Butler and his cast are so committed to the enterprise? Were sweating for theater’s sake a legitimate sport, writer-actor Paul Thureen would have long since medaled, with his colleague, Hannah Bos, joining him on the podium.
The plot itself—which concerns a young girl who has cancer (or does she?) and the efforts of the town to rally around her—is forgettable. The details of the set and the nuanced acting are not. (Nor is the thwack of the vigorous racquetball games that often disrupt the action.) The Indiana State Police trumpet the motto “Integrity, Service, Professionalism.” These thesps enact it.