Buddy Cop 2 sounds similar to the recent box office bomb MacGruber, like a spoof of 1980s action genre tropes. And it’s true that the play, written by co-stars Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and developed by director Oliver Butler, takes place in the 1980s. But beneath the polyester pants and Aquanet hair, there are a lot of smart, unexpected, and even dramatic surprises to be found. Buddy, presented by the Debate Society with the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator, takes place in the local police station of Shandon, Indiana. Though it’s currently August, Officers Novak and Olsen (Bos and Thureen, respectively) are making sure things are beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Local girl Skylar (Monique Vukovic) is suffering from cancer and might not live to see the actual holiday, so the townspeople are singing and parading in her honor; the governor even makes plans to visit.
Meanwhile, the officers go on with their daily routine. Novak practices for a physical ability test that her male colleagues have never had to take. Olsen bides his time by playing bingo along with the radio. And fellow Officer McMurchie (Michael Cyril Creighton) stews at being passed over to work security for the governor’s visit.
Everything about Buddy seems to shriek “comedy!” And in the beginning, it seems to be playing along those lines. Novak gallops toward the front door every time a delivery arrives. The officers dig at each other and their quotidian routines engender knowing laughter from anyone who’s whittled time away behind a desk. An early scene in which Novak knocks down a shelf had me laughing harder than I had at a show in weeks.
But eventually, Buddy moves in a different direction. This isn’t at all a play about people acting funny, this is a play about a community coming together and how easy it is for people to understand one another without words even being said. Novak, for instance, appreciates McMurchie’s feeling slighted, and also makes some keen observations about Olsen.
Buddy, shrewdly paced by Butler, is also a play where the devil lies in the details, and boy do the talented actors in this show have those details down pat. Bos, Creighton and Thureen are able to fold the funny bits of the story into characterizations that carry real dimension. The outrage Thureen brings to losing at bingo is both humorous and scary at the same time; the forthright manner in which Bos has Novak describe her short-lived marriage is simultaneously endearing and heartbreaking. And the way the officers take turns lowering the volume on the radio when a phone call comes in is the kind of deft touch that shows respect and familiarity not found in a more run-of-the-mill slapstick comedy. And Creighton wields a mean slow burn.
Furthermore, Laura Jellinek’s design is also spot-on, recreating a claustrophobic office environment. (The actual Shandon police station has flooded, so the action takes place in a converted recreation center that comes complete with a functional racquetball court.) Mike Rigg’s lighting design also contributes to the realistic effect.
The one place where Buddy seems to falter is in the monologues that break up the scenes depicting the officers’ monotony, delivered by Vukovic as Skylar and another character, Brandi. The way these are interwoven with the police station scenes never fully gels, and sometimes it creates an eerie effect. These speeches confuse rather than clarify the show's ultimate tone.
Still, the overall effect of the play is a very tender one. I went to this play to watch several strangers, and I left it feeling as though I had made several friends.