Fans of TV police procedurals such as “Blue Bloods,” “CSI” or particularly the terrific new entry “The Rookie” will find themselves particularly enamored of Kevin Artigue’s “Sheepdog,” a thought-provoking two-character drama making its world premiere at South Coast Repertory.
Both actors play cops. She’s black and he’s white. Morality and ethical conduct come into play, threatening the emotional health of both officers, who have fallen in love, though a bit cautiously.
Under the sure guiding hand of director Leah C. Gardiner, the performers establish compelling scenarios on a virtually blank stage. Set pieces consist of two chairs and a sort of bed/couch serving a variety of purposes, with a series of shifting panels adjusting the setting.
A razor-sharp Erika LaVonn takes on most of the heavy lifting, both as actress and narrator, as she sets the scene with various flashbacks and fast-forward moments. She’s also the conscience of the play, her character having grown up on Cleveland’s rough streets and developed a strong sense of social justice.
Lea Coco enacts her partner/lover with a sensitivity masked by macho bravado. Under LaVonn’s influence, he grows more accepting and nearly comes unglued by a sudden movement on the job resulting in tragedy.
As a team, they are comfortably paired, each needling the other about their backgrounds in pop culture and planning a future that might include an offspring. These attitudes are sorely tested when the crisis arises.
The pair interact with the outside world — represented by two offstage voices (Melody Butiu and Ricardo Salinas) and video projections. The shifting set designs of Myung Hee Cho accommodate smooth transitions.
The “Sheepdog” of the title refers to the officers themselves, guarding the sheep (citizens) against the threat of wolves (predators). It’s a duty both parties take seriously, which complicates their lives when pressure is encountered.
The play, developed by SCR in its recent Pacific Playwrights Festival, is a topical exercise in the rigors and responsibilities of police work. Overt racism, while touched upon, does not figure prominently in the story.
“Sheepdog” is both impressive and important as it thrusts the viewer into matters of his or her own conscience. It’s a strong dose of realism inspired by today’s headlines at South Coast Repertory.
IF YOU GO
Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Theater, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 and 7:45 until May 5
Cost: Tickets start at $23
Call: (714) 708-5555
Tom Titus reviews local theater for TimesOC.
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