SOFTCOPS, Green Highway Theater, at Stage Left Theatre. If you’ve read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, his landmark investigation into the birth of the modern Western penal system, then Caryl Churchill’s Softcops, based on Foucault’s book, won’t offer you much. Lacking the political sophistication and theatrical flair of her best work, Churchill’s play glosses Foucault’s monumental work in Cliffs Notes fashion. She sets it in mid-19th-century France, just as the public torture of criminals is losing favor despite the zealous efforts of one man to spice up the gruesome spectacles with costumes, music, and rehearsed speeches. But his proposed antics are replaced with a new, nonpublic system: isolation, supervision, and surveillance. Criminals are removed from public view, and the techniques used to police them become the standards of conduct in business, education, and health care. Despite grandiose themes, Churchill’s play is essentially a staged term paper, draining most of the blood from Foucault’s inspired work.
If you haven’t read Foucault, Green Highway’s production of Softcops is not the place to start. Director Janel Winter flattens what little action the text provides by encouraging big, superficial performances from a self-conscious cast. The company seems not to have decided what the play is about, and as a result the scenes run on automatic. Go read the book. –Justin Hayford