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Photograph: Heather StumpfSteve Pickering and Vince Teninty in A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes at Pine Box Theatre

A Girl with Sun in Her Eyes at Pine Box Theater | Theater review

Fiery performances fuel Joshua Rollins’s gritty police procedural.

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Literally decades of Law & Order have gotten us accustomed to the standard formulas that make the police procedural an ideal television genre: a new case each week so each episode stands on its own; linear, step-by-step storytelling; a cast of regular characters made interchangeable by keeping their personal lives offscreen. What makes Rollins’s breathless new play, essentially a police procedural for the stage, so successful is the way he turns those familiar tropes on their heads.

Grant Sabin’s one-room set handily evokes both a seedy interrogation room and a seedier motel room, both places average-schmo William (a perfectly weaselly Teninty) finds himself desperate to escape late one night after a boozy outing to a South Side strip club. As the play opens, William awaits questioning by a pair of Chicago officers, sharply embodied by Aldridge and Pickering—a prickly pair who stoke new fire in the classic good cop, bad cop construction.

Whether and how William arrived in the motel room earlier that night, and how that relates to a vice cop gone missing in the hours between, are the answers the cops seek (and Pickering’s intense rogue officer is more than willing to beat them out of William). Rollins alternates these present-moment scenes with flashbacks to earlier in the evening, incrementally revealing William’s fate. But Aldridge and Pickering have plenty of back story of their own; in fact, every character here has layers of secrets they’d love to keep hidden. Rollins’s plotting slackens a bit at the climax, but Miller’s direction stays taut.

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