Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


Strange to think of winter in this heat, but Planet Ant Theatre’s latest original late-night comedy was born in January, with the Winter Improv Colony Fest — the coveted prize for the winning troupe was this time slot and director Matthias Schneider. Vaulting from improvisation to the scripted world, the winning trio invented and wrote Cop Block, a one-act revenge fantasy that plays with grizzled old clichés. However, given a troupe whose predominant strength appears to be finding comic nuance in the everyday, this over-the-top genre parody makes for an imperfect fit.

The play’s simple story arc concerns police officers Shaw (Andy Wotta), McLopez (Andrew Seiler), and Freedom (Clint Lohman), recently bereft of their beloved chief by a noted cop killer/drug dealer. Intent on avenging their lost leader, the men set out to bring his murderer to justice, battling various personal demons along the way: McLopez’s domineering and disapproving wife, Freedom’s alcoholism, and Shaw’s rampaging ineptitude and fondness for “sampling” the drugs they encounter on the beat. From dramatic graveside pledges to off-the-books interrogation tactics to expository scenes at the shooting range, the best-known devices of law enforcement storytelling are all here. Happily for the plot, a too-early victory gone awry ramps up the interest, and what follows are some of the most crafty and inventive moments of the piece.

The performers frequently change guises to portray daughters and bimbos and bartenders as dictated by the needs of the scene; among these, Seiler’s villainous Two Percent stands out as a quirky, surprising presence. Between weird moments of showmanship and goofy perp-walk protestations, Two Percent is a welcome if hardly worthy adversary, and the spectacularly unconventional circumstances of the final showdown are easily the highlight of the play. Still, the thrust of the story belongs to the trio of protagonists, and all three actors grapple with reconciling the extremity their broad characters demand with the low-key delivery and highly cultivated silences that are clearly a hallmark of their improvisation. In practice, the characters’ idiosyncratic largesse is not consistently big enough, while some of the easiest laughs appear to come from understated ad-libs.

The forty-minute story unfolds cinematically as a series of clipped and variously located vignettes, assisted by minimal representative details of set dressing, costume, and sound design. Stark lighting seasons the proceedings to fine effect, pushing a climactic Montage of Increasing Loneliness and Despair right over the top and contributing to a phenomenally executed headstone. Yet overall, from its jumbled offstage prologue to its puzzling and under-explained resolution, much of Cop Block falls short of its lofty, ambitious premise. Rather than pushing the limits of a ridiculous spoof, the production shows a trio of accomplished comedic performers whose particular capabilities are not especially complemented by the chosen form.


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