It’s like Ghostbuster Peter Venckman’s end-of-days scenario come true: “Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”
While Good Cop, Bad Cop manages to veer well away from actual hysteria, it is hysterical — but very quietly hysterical.
In form and substance, this light-hearted play resembles a low-budget, refreshingly clever indie film. Good Cop, Bad Cop manages quite well, stripped down to only two elements of a conventional play: there is a set and there are live actors.
The set is an exercise in minimalism, too. It might easily be mistaken for an Ikea in-store room display. And emphasizing the theme still further, the actors onstage do not utter a word for the length of the play. Dialogue and interaction among the cast arrives via video projected onto the set’s back wall. And it’s here that things in this quirky, absurd little tale get interesting.
Good Cop, Bad Cop shreds enough of the usual audience expectations for live theatre that it took a little while for the opening night crowd to catch on to its coy playfulness and to enter its twisty little world.
The actors stare at one another, loll about, climb the furniture, enjoy antic moments of focused, child-like preoccupation with the most mundane things. In short, nothing much happens. But in time, the realization dawns: we are watching two cats — Liesbeth Gritter and Mette van der Sijs along with a lumpishly disinterested dog (Ton Heijligers) left home alone.
In the meantime, video clips reframe everything we’re seeing as the cast comment on the uneventful experiences in a confessional video booth straight out of the reality TV series Big Brother.
Thus we learn that Mette-kitty’s prolonged cat and mouse play all over the floor with a bit of wadded paper felt addictive to her.
“It occupied me for quite a long while,” says her reality show character. “I couldn’t quite grasp it.” Alongside her in the confessional, Liesbeth nods in agreement. “She couldn’t quite grasp it.”
The ongoing send up of reality shows manufacturing drama from nothing leaves the audience suspecting that they have more in common with the cats and dog than first meets the eye. We too, are much too easily amused and entertained.
The pace of the play is necessarily lethargic, putting emphasis on the reality that nothing of any great moment is actually happening. But this enforced dullness is easily offset by the live action sight gags.
Stretched out on a low shelving unit, Liesbeth renders a hilariously accurate vignette of a cat twisted around the furniture, playing with its own tauntingly dangling back foot. Gritter takes the prize for lithe, limber sprawling that would do a yoga master proud.
Tied for first place, van der Sijs’ extended adventure thrashing around inside a huge plastic bag provoked delighted applause. A frenetic whirlwind inside a see-through nemesis. Beautiful. Genuinely inventive physical comedy has not had this thorough a revival since the days of Buster Keaton’s silent films.
In some ways Good Cop, Bad Cop is a direct descendant of silent film’s simple, limited dramatic tool set. And it is a lovely reminder that humor and absurdly clarifying insights can be gained from the simple act of studying how easily we make asses of ourselves in public.