Scenic designer Trena Weiss-Null brings the audience inside a shabby Chicago diner at 2 a.m. on a rainy night in 1978, with a vividly detailed set including scuff marks on the floor, seedy pink covers on the counter stools, and a working stove. George (Rob Heckert), the harried owner, and Mickey (Honora Talbot), the exhausted waitress, are serving a couple of regulars when cocky Jack Rolf (Regen Wilson) barrels in and parks himself on a stool, inadvertently sitting on a hat placed there by one of the regulars. The interplay between Rolf and the owner of the hat (Bill Gordon), followed by the arrival of the more reserved Bob Barberson (Brian Razzino) to break up the disagreement, suggest a farcical look at law enforcement, but it's just a way to blindside the audience before the rougher circumstances take over.
Rolf and Barberson are plainclothes police, soon joined in the diner by uniformed cop Gene Czerwicki (John C. Bailey). They communicate in a rough, profane shorthand that shows no special concern for people of different races, ethnic groups, sexes or sexual orientations. (Cops was written around the same time that David Mamet, also starting out in Chicago, began making poetry out of profanity.) Basically, it's late, the weather is miserable and they're bored.
The situation changes in a moment with the appearance of a stranger (Shane Wallis) who happens to be carrying a loaded gun. Suddenly the audience is right in the thick of a hostage situation, pinned down like the diner owner behind the counter and the officers attempting to barricade themselves behind tables.
Director Stephen Jarrett keeps the 75 minutes of action taut, tense and realistic, and the actors work as a notable ensemble. Wilson makes the most of his role as a show-off who becomes all business when the going gets tough, while Talbot brings quiet humanity as an innocent person caught in the middle.
American Century Theater