Cops and Monologues Nov 18, 2011

by Lyall

The first thing you see walking into the main stage is a mass of cables — thick and sprawling.  If you sat in the first row you could practically trip over them taking your seat. It all feels like mess and mass, the back yard coughed up, veinous, in the front yard, something transitory, that massive crossing of overpasses at the edge of the city, thick, functional, pragmatic, ugly-beautiful.


The set is up front, too: the facade of a house or a squat, two-story building, with three doors cut out of it, and spaces loaded up with old-school technology. On the left is a police dispatch area, with a manual typewriter, a rotary phone, and a sneeze guard up front. Somewhere in here it is 1972. The middle cut-out is a booth with shooting gallery targets on the walls. On the right, another booth. 


Video images come up, projected onto the facade, with the feel of a Frederick Wiseman institutional documentary. We see a squad room with desks and phones. Cops walk in criminals. Then officers appear in the booths and start monologuing, alone, into their dispatch microphones, holding down the button on the side, their mouths hidden. The first longer soliloquy we get is in the film: a young officer explains that a cop joins the force for different reasons: maybe because someone in his family was one, or maybe because he was inspired by TV police shows. Young men go to the academy “because they want to do good, they want to help people, they want a pension.” Yet when they start working they find that there are two worlds: the police world and the other world, and people in the other world don't want the help of the police. The young officers can't believe it. 


Much of Newyorkland is voice performance and these running documentary-like images, short narratives -- some material darker, some lighter. Whatever performances there are are in the video. There’s a funny, longer filmed scene in a New York apartment hallway: two cops with handlebar moustaches knock on the door of a woman who comes holding “flat irons" and speaking with crazy insistence;  she won’t think about anything the officers want her to think about that night, and she will, more or less, do what she wants. The cops leave by the stairs, saying that if they come back she will be explaining everything at the station, but even they don’t seem convinced that they mean it. 


So the show goes, the cops’ inner lives gradually unraveling via monologues delivered standing, in the reception/dispatch area, in the shooting gallery, in the booth, on the screen. More and more we see that they are spilling things out, spilling out not a TV restoration of order, but night itself. For one small, spooky scene we see these monologuists lit from behind with small penlights, as if that's all they get, tiny insights. Close to the end of the show one of the cops walks out of the booth, unhooks a worklight, steps over the cables and holds the light up to the audience, peering out. He holds it up without expecting to see us or to learn anything.


Newyorkland is a sober, melancholy show, and those long, thick, overlapping cables eventually seem to grow hallucinatorially large by the end, describing a system that isn’t one, reminding us maybe of squad cars in traffic listening to dispatchers rambling, delivering their long interior monologues to all the isolated messy outer boroughs of the heart.