Warped

 By Barbara Lhota

stage left theatre
Warped by Barbara Lhota

Directed by Jason A. Fleece

Produced by Stage Left Theatre

At Theater Wit, Chicago

Suspenseful mystery examines the subjectivity  of “truth.”

Stage Left Theatre nurtures new plays as part of their mission statement. Over the years they have mounted many worthy world premieres.  Their latest, Warped by Barbara Lhota, now playing at Theater Wit, is a smart, realistic, and quite suspenseful mystery. Lhota is a polished writer whose understanding of police procedures, particularly of the Chicago Police Department, gives her creditability.  We see  the events of the night in question from the point of view of each other four participants as two investigators attempt to unravel the truth.

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Lhota presents six realistic characters who each possess their bias on the events in question. She presents all sides of the events including all the shades of gray that masks as the truth. We are on the edge of our seats trying to figure what happened and who do what to whom. This work quickly engages us and it keeps us going throughout.

Two Chicago uniformed beat cops – Hal Pajak (Mark Pracht) and Alex Vanson (Nick Mikula), while patrolling their Northside Chicago beat too much time on personal matters. Alex texts his girlfriend who uses his mobile phone to argue with him. Hal is bored with Alex’s girl trouble since he doesn’t currently have a woman in his life.

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When a drunken woman jumps into the street near their squad car, the two cops become engaged in rescuing her from the danger of his inability to navigate the streets. She is so wasted that Alex decides to give her a ride home. Or does he?  The circumstances vary as to all the events from the time Hope Farrell (Kate Black-Spence) – the lady in question falls into the arms of the officers.

When Hope rushes out onto the hallway of her apartment complex hollering: “Rape,” a neighbor Josh (Max Ganet) calls 9-1-1.  After several flashbacks from various points of view, investigators Jules Rossi (Lisa Herceg)-who hates men and looks to bury the cops but  her partner Kim Simon (Victoria Caciopoli) is more objective yet she also leans to the cops being guilty of bad conduct at least.

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Alex is the good-looking charming cop while Hal is the gruff. stoic officer. Hope is the much-too-eager flirt who aggressively comes on to and kisses Alex in the squad car. Add the creepy neighbor Josh who listens through the walls to Hope’s sexual encounters and we have the ingredients of s suspenseful mystery. Did one or the other of the  cops actually rape Hope? As the investigators question the three principals and the neighbor witness, the contradictions, the half-truths, and the personal biases  emerge. All sic characters muddle or interpret the events to justify their actions or to explain away those actions. Lhota presents the potential abuse of power by authority figures and how we hold them accountable for their actions. Do we cover up what the cops may have done since the victim is herself isn’t a pillar of society? Do the investigators assume the cops are guilty and try to bury them? Can a over zealous investigator ruin the career of other cops because of their personal biases? Along the way into this quagmire, the lingering questions is: was Hope raped? and by whom?  Were is the line between rape and consensual sex?

What is the truth here? See this tightly drawn mystery to figure out what actually happened. Filled with surprises and ambiguity,Warped deftly twists perceptions as it examines the grayness of the truth. The journey keeps us engaged even with an intermission that usually deludes the dramatic tension. The ensemble acting here is first rate with  Kate Black-Spence being particularly effective.

As Warped presents  its events, we beg for more and act two delivers nicely. The resolution will send you home debating who did what to whom. The experience is memorable. Warped is a classic example of the power of a live performance to coat the truth into personal gestures and expressions that take the truth to a new level. Experience the wonders of a fine mystery.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Date Reviewed: September 6, 2013

For more info checkout the Warped page at theatreinchicago.com

At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, call 773-883-8830, www.stagelefttheatre.com, tickets $25 – $27, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays t 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through October 6, 2013