Barbara Lhota’s new play, receiving its premiere at Stage Left, is as ripped from the headlines as any episode from the Law & Order franchise. Warped follows the investigation of two cops accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman in her own home after offering her a late-night ride. The situation seems obviously inspired by a highly publicized 2011 court case in New York in which the cops accused were acquitted, though Lhota has fictionalized the details and transferred the action to Chicago.
Curiously, Lhota makes the play’s apparent protagonists a pair of police detectives (Lisa Herceg and Victoria Caciopoli) investigating the allegations as they interview the accused beat cops (Nick Mikula and Mark Pracht) and the alleged victim (Kate Black-Spence). (A sixth character, an extraneous nosy neighbor, is played by Max Ganet.) We see the evening’s events transpire differently based on the varied memories, and perhaps motivations, of the person recounting them.
This setup might work better if this actually was written for TV, and the investigating detectives were a known quantity like SVU’s Benson and Stabler rather than a pair of invented ciphers Lhota’s asking us to learn and care about as much or more than those standing in for the parties to a very real and recent case.
Mikula, Pracht and Black-Spence do nice jobs modulating their characterizations based on whose perspective we’re seeing them from, but one begins to wonder what Lhota’s own perspective is. Her approach feels tonally confused, particularly in those moments when she and director Jason A. Fleece seem to be playing for laughs—or perhaps the opening night audience just found the subject matter more hilarious than I did.