Keith Huff’s Six Corners, the world premiere now at American Blues Theater, is quintessentially Chicago. It’s the story of a pair of shady cops, not always on the up and up, sometimes willing to falsify a report for good or bad reasons. And its script includes many references to Chicago history and locations.
The story has parallels with Huff’s smash Chicago and Broadway hit, A Steady Rain, about two other morally conflicted cops. A Steady Rain premiered at Chicago Dramatists in 2007, transferred to the Royal George Theatre in 2008 and then opened on Broadway in 2009 with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig playing the leads.
Six Corners, smoothly directed by Gary Griffin, is a tight, fast-moving story that resembles a police procedural with plenty of cop jargon, plot twists and turns. At 90 minutes running time, it could very nicely become a TV movie and seems made for HBO. The dialogue snaps in every scene. The six characters and their stories move from office to “catch area” (where witnesses/suspects wait) to interview rooms at the Belmont and Western police station and to a bus stop near the Sears store at Six Corners.
The office belongs to Moroni (Peter DeFaria) and Perez (Monica Orozco), two night-shift cops. She’s an Afghanistan vet. He has a history of brutality with the CPD and ratted out his former partner Kovlaczek (who was ready to retire anyway). More recently, he shot a kid he thought had a gun (he didn’t), then planted a piece; Perez kept her mouth shut.
The storyline involves the shooting of a CTA employee at the Western Avenue Brown Line (formerly the Ravenswood) station between Wilson and Lawrence. The victim is dead when the cops arrive and the witnesses wait to be interviewed. Hutch (Manny Buckley) is a night watchman. Amanda (Brenda Barrie) is a waitress. It should be an open-and-shut case but it eventually ties in to another murder case from the past: The rape and murder of 7-year-old Katie (an adorable Lyric Sims)—probably by a vagrant with a long rap sheet (Byron Glenn Willis).
Moroni and Perez are partners, both married, and there’s a sexual tension between them. Whether or not that tension has been or ever will be consummated is part of the ambiguity of Six Corners.
When Perez interviews Hutch, he turns out to be wary of the police for good reason. He’s an eloquent, even poetic, citizen, who works as a night watchman and goes to Loyola law school during the day. When do you sleep, Perez asks. I don’t, he says.
“I grew up in the country. Mississippi,” Hutch tells Perez. “My parents warned me not to move to Chicago. Too dangerous. But I had to, you know? The city is where the truth lies. I didn’t get it till I got here. I came to the city in search of Truth. But it wasn’t till I lived here a few years I realized the Truth doesn’t exist here or anywhere. It lies. Which is a truth in a way. Painful sick fucking joke, but truth all the same.”
And later, he tells her, “We tell stories to make meaninglessness meaningful…. A story, by definition, is never the whole story. It eliminates certain elements. Includes others. It’s a distillation of the truth. A story can be truthful. But essentially it’s a lie.”
Is Hutch speaking for the playwright? About the moral relativism of our city, any city? Six Corners is a masterpiece of storytelling. Stories told in sharp dialogue, stories that make you laugh or cry, about a city broken and reborn over and over again.
Griffin’s direction makes these stories come alive. His characters are all real people. Buckley’s Hutch is particularly interesting. Joe Schermoly’s set design enables the police station and bus stop sites to change with Alexander Ridger’s lighting design. A pair of sliding glass doors (which had a brief case of the jitters on opening night) screen off and reveal the interview rooms. Original music and sound design is by Lindsay Jones, with costumes by Janice Pytel.
Six Corners makes many references to Chicago locations, old and new. And some are of fond memory to me.
The current police station at Belmont and Western is on the spot where Riverview Park used to be. That’s a beloved spot I visited with my mother and grandmother when I was a child and as a slightly wild teenager later. Six Corners itself is the three-way intersection of Irving Park Road, Cicero and Milwaukee avenues, known to Northwest Siders for its many shops and cafes and the Portage Theater. (In high school, I worked at a chain clothing shop on Milwaukee Avenue, two long bus rides each way from home on the farther west northwest side.)
Six Corners is partially inspired by a terrifying event that Huff experienced at the same Western Brown Line stop. The play is the third in what Huff calls a loosely related trilogy. The other two are A Steady Rain and The Detective’s Wife (2011 premiere at Writers Theatre). Huff has been a prolific writer for award-winning TV and films, including HBO’s House of Cards, AMC’s Mad Men and ABC’s American Crime.
Six Corners by American Blues Theater continues at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, through March 24. Tickets are $19-49 for performances Thursday-Sunday with additional performances on Monday, March 5, and Wednesday, March 21.