‘Six Corners’ at American Blues Theater: Murder at a train stop, seen in shifting lights
“Six Corners” by Keith Huff, produced by American Blues Theater at Stage 773 through March 24. ★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Nick Moroni and Bernadette Perez are married (not to each other) mid-career Chicago cops burning late oil at the precinct shop, bantering, shuffling papers, watching the clock, waiting to check out so they can check into a motel together. This little slice of their lives provides the frame for Keith Huff’s “Six Corners,” a pulp-fiction drama at American Blues Theater that modulates from sad to sadder before it ends in the precincts of nobility.
While Moroni (played with dry, hard-bitten humor by Peter DeFaria) and Perez (the wry and self-assured Monica Orozco) kibitz and spar like the veteran partners they are, and discuss their impending tryst with the detachment of a trip to the gym together, the world outside intrudes with the kind of bad news that defines their profession.
A known pedophile has been found shot to death on an L platform, and now in the next room sit a black man and a white woman who found the victim and were with him when he died. Maybe this whole thing can be tied up quickly and the two cops can get on with their hot rendezvous. Perez has even reserved a room. But the incident at the L stop turns out to be more complicated, more fraught, than it first looks.
The narrative of “Six Corners” is punctuated by flashbacks to a key sequence that only we the audience ever know about. A little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, is seated on a bench at a bus stop, waiting for her mom, who is shopping nearby. A big guy slides onto the bench beside her, and they strike up a conversation. We revisit them several times, and their bizarre exchanges form the most marvelous aspect of the play. Indeed, the continuity and conviction of their fragmented chat reflect the finest touch of director Gary Griffin.
The child, played with remarkable focus and innocent ease by third-grader Lyric Sims, is cautioned by the rather bedraggled man (a performance of almost seraphic beauty by Bryon Glenn Willis) that it’s not safe for a little girl to be sitting alone on a street bench. He asks her if she knows what a pedophile is. She does not.
Each time we jump back to their little colloquy, the scruffy guy expresses increasing anxiety about sitting on the bench with this child, lest a patrol car roll around. And yet he doesn’t want to leave her alone, he says. The girl gives the friendly fellow a photo a herself, one of several she carries around in a bag. He makes a hard choice: He will leave her unattended and – against all his better instincts – go to the nearest police station to explain that the girl is at risk.
Meanwhile, back in the narrative present, detectives Moroni and Perez separately interview the two witnesses, who say that when they came upon the guy on the platform, he had just been shot and had tumbled onto the tracks. They tell the identical stories about rescuing him from the tracks only to have him die in their arms from a gunshot wound to the head.
It’s not so much a whodunit as a what-really-went-down. As the two cops press their interrogation of these witnesses, the black guy (the heated, edgy Manny Buckley) blows up and accuses the cops of racism. As the white woman, Brenda Barrie portrays a soul in shock, but also someone who has her story down and isn’t moving from it.
But those contrasting dynamics notwithstanding, the interview dialogue is less concise, less sharp or engaging than we get in the play’s extended opening scene between DeFaria’s weathered, pretty much burned out detective and Orozco’s smart foil: a pair of veteran law officers and spouses looking for some fresh action on the side, passion having little to do with it. Set designer Joe Schermoly’s well-worn cop shop is like a silent third character, authentic and affirming.
If the dialogue is variable, the several plot twists all work, and so does the ultimate moral crisis that confronts the two cops. They act on a rash and questionable, but certainly credible, perception of justice. And one of them remembers the kids at this late hour: safe, at home.
- Performance location, dates and times: Details at TheatreInChicago.com