Logan Brown and Matthew Benjamin’s How To Act Around Cops was a hit at the 2003 New York Fringe Festival, but it translates remarkably well to an Australian setting, with its emphasis on blokes, cops, cars, drugs, violence and sex jokes.
Act I kicks off with a video title card, and two men (Andrew Bibby and Tamlyn Henderson) driving down a highway in a battered car, as they become aware that a car is following them. “Are those cop headlights,” asks the driver? “They look like cop headlights. Are they square? They look square.” “How the fuck do I know, I’m not some kind of cop geek” exclaims the annoyed front passenger.
When they are indeed pulled over by a cop, the behaviour of the two men quickly escalates – one consumes a bag of cocaine to remove the evidence, while the other seems to talk himself into actual amnesia followed by an epileptic fit.
The premise for the drama is the irrational paranoia that cops provoke in even innocent bystanders. A lot of the lines are funny because they ring so true – and others because they are so extremely unrealistic, as the characters spin out of control and into ever-more-improbable situations and complicated cover-stories, as the play progresses.
Other gags are premised on audience prejudices, and turning those expectations on their head: are cops the good guys? If you see an “ethnic” man and a “white” woman engaged in a public sex act, does your mind leap to the worst conclusion? Of course, if you answered no to both the above questions that may take a lot of the punch out of the script.
The humour doesn’t always work in Shaman Productions’ version. They play the characters “big”, and work on a lot of sight gags, which don’t always hit the mark timing-wise – although Bibby plays the physical comedy well, and is quite endearing as the increasingly detached-from-reality anti-hero of the piece.
Maybe the script was intended as a clever examination of guilt and prejudice – and it is definitely an excellent demonstration of paranoia – but this production comes off as more of an Aussie comedy of mishaps than the cleverly-written comedy that so many overseas reviewers enjoyed.
But as a simple piece of short theatre with ambitions to entertainment, with enough interesting twists to keep you on your toes, good performances, and clever set design (making use of an on-stage car!) this is worth a look for those looking for fun.