“Promise me you’ll grow up to be the Best. Damned. Police Cop. EVER.” So hinges these two one-hour performance pieces by the trio billed as The Pretend Men, which folds together physical comedy, pop culture references, the occasional dance number, ingenious lo-fi costumes and props, and just plain good-fun nonsense. This pair of award-winning shows, part of 59E59 Theater’s Brits Off Broadway 2018 series, is the perfect balm for a weary world.
Young Jimmy, played by Zachary Hunt, is commanded by his late brother to become the eponymous POLICE COP. After getting his badge, Jimmy heads to a bar, The Old Retired Cop, in search of old retired cop Harrison (played by a beautifully gruff Tom Roe, who looks like a young Heath Ledger). Jimmy drags Harrison home to meet his father, where they partake of some male bonding during a mimed bar-raising. A murder takes place as the duo go in search of the diabolical criminal, Hernandez (Nathan Parkinson), but instead it is a cat that is the bandit, who then breaks into a dance number to The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black. As the cops start successfully taking out a succession of criminals, the dialogue suddenly veers to a serious discussion of Omelet Night. Suddenly the boys are off the force, stripped of their badges in a farcical and literal strip tease. Hernandez turns out to be Molloy, the police chief. There’s a big murder reveal, followed by a Metallica dance number. It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s stream-of-consciousness delight.
Seeing this trio on the second night for their sequel, POLICE COPS IN SPACE, which continues the narrative into the universe’s hinterlands, I was better able to see how this talented group reads their audience, even as they plow through their hilarious and exaggerated plotlines. As they expertly transition between a multitude of characters, hopping between dialogue and short choreographed numbers (including moves lifted exactly from Billy Joel’s video “Uptown Girl”), their abilities can be overshadowed by their madcap delivery. Don’t be fooled – these guys are seasoned experts who have the chops to do anything, and their CVs include TV, film, and stage. With their growing notoriety and talents, they are destined for the mainstream. But their lo-fi creativity is also part of their charm. They do their costume quick-changes right on stage and make do with a bare-bones budget using creative lighting, music, and quicksilver intelligence. Their inventive recreation of Batman’s motorcycle from The Dark Knight, using strings and a pair of glowsticks, brought the house down.
POLICE COPS IN SPACE concludes with a hat tip to a popular science fiction film from the 1980s, poking fun at their sequel by proposing an even more absurd third installment.
Zachary Hunt displays a delightfully limber physicality during one brief scene balanced between two moving cars. I have never seen anyone successfully swish a pair of sunglasses across a stage straight into a cardboard box. Nathan Parkinson is versatile, from cat to villain to eager young boy to victim of a slo-mo car accident with a red balloon standing in as an air bag. Tom Roe is innately funny and an ad-lib master. Look for his brief portrayal as a robot who, after being deactivated, powers back up as a charming Southern belle.
Superbly synchronized, absurd, physical and exuberant, The Pretend Men can rightly be billed as the next-gen Monty Python. Their abilities and talents are destined to take them off the fringe circuit and into the next phase of fame.