Style of Sympathy, Side Project, at the Side Studio. The crooked cop is nothing new–you’ll find the equivalent in Shakespeare’s Dogberry or in Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus. And that’s the problem with Christopher Williams’s noirish police drama: he spends too much time showing us how crooked his trio of cops are when what makes them interesting is their resemblance to the rest of us. That one officer gets involved in selling confiscated porn on the black market to pay for his coke habit is boring. That another joins the scam to raise money for his daughter’s college education is fascinating–and troubling.

Williams’s characters are vivid even when they feel like cliches, and he sure knows how to keep his story moving: there are no dead spots in this 90-minute drama. He also has a knack for taut, profanity-filled urban patois of the Neil LaBute-Quentin Tarantino-Elmore Leonard variety. Side Project director Adam Webster takes full advantage of this argot, assembling a four-man ensemble with the range and pipes to make Williams’s hard-boiled dialogue sound like poetry. They also have the sense to play up his characters’ original aspects–their contradictions and quirks–and play down the cliches. Guy Marziello, for example, portrays Detective Puget not as a mere drug addict but as a man genuinely at odds with himself who wants to both protect the peace and make a pile of money. Tensions like that engender the best parts of this uneven drama.