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How to Act Around Cops

Presented by The Present Company and Singularity as part of the seventh annual New York International Fringe Festival at the Cherry Lane Studio, 38 Commerce St., NYC, Aug. 15-24, transferring to The Kraine Theater, 85 E. Fourth St., NYC, Sept. 5-19.

"How to Act Around Cops" has a fair number of things to recommend it, but an accurate title is definitely not one of them. All three scenes of Logan Brown's attitude-heavy, logic-light noir comedy share one element: Every character says or does the exact wrong thing to a cop at least once.

Granted, this particular policeman (Chris Kipiniak) doesn't instill too much respect. He makes any number of fairly obvious gaffes, and he is routinely lied to and occasionally framed by the bad guys. Terms like "bad guys" are actually a bit out of place in Brown's world: Amid all the skittish energy and Tarantino-esque dialogue is an extremely muddled plot in which nearly every character appears to have committed, as well as been the victim of, one crime or another.

What starts as a fairly routine roadside inspection of two young men in a speeding car (and a gripping first scene) quickly gets botched, as one of the men appears to die at the cop's hands. Brown's rat-a-tat dialogue and Jon Schumacher's direction in this scene made up in bravado what they lacked in polish, and there were a surprising number of laughs.

But the pace comes to a halt faster than that car, and as the inconsistencies and gaps in logic build, credulity simply falls by the wayside. Once the cop encounters a gun and two very suspicious guys (one of whom has just swallowed a fair amount of cocaine), why on earth doesn't he call for backup? Do the perpetrators of crimes always look and sound so obviously guilty? Is the play meant to explore moral ambiguity, or is it merely content to be ambiguous?

Downtown theatre stalwart Susan O'Connor didn't have much to do as a horny kidnap victim. Shown to better effect were Andrew Breving and Matthew Benjamin as the duo whose ill-conceived actions set the play in motion. Their agitated brio set a high standard that too much of "How to Act Around Cops" fails to reach.

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