The Riverside Theatre
91 Claremont Ave.
Wednesday to Saturday through October 13, $25-$40
On August 27, 2017, Tony-winning playwright and New York City native Bernard Pomerance, a huge fan of the genre-redefining cop series NYPD Blue, died at the age of seventy-six. On April 1, 2018, New York City native Steven Bochco, the Emmy-winning television writer and producer of such shows as NYPD Blue and L.A. Law, died at the age of seventy-four. Sixty-nine-year-old award-winning actor and director and New York City native Ron Canada, who has nearly 150 credits in film and on television — including an appearance on NYPD Blue — brings it all full circle with the world premiere of Pomerance’s Spin Off, running at the Riverside Theatre through October 13. Canada is the director and one of the executive producers of the muddled drama, about a trio of characters from a police drama who seek to establish their own identities, becoming self-aware and breaking out from the constraints of the genre and their characters. A hooker named Rosie Ramirez (Megan McQueen) has apparently been shot and killed by Detective Jimmy Marks (Kevin Rico Angulo), who is being interviewed by Dr. Chloe Allen (Tricia Mancuso Parks) to determine whether it was a good shooting. But with the series facing cancellation, they don’t have much time, and things get more challenging when a gangster producer named TV (Chad Restum) and his right-hand henchman, Carlos (Thomas Hildreth), arrive, armed and ready to defend their turf.
Like so many spin-offs, Spin Off fails to live up to its promise. Pomerance (The Elephant Man) and Canada (The Invested, Lights Up on the Fade Out) touch upon such topical issues as immigration, racial profiling, fascism, gun violence, PTSD, and personal identity, but it all gets lost in a difficult-to-follow staging that includes a pair of monitors that are usually blank but occasionally show another character, Yara (Najla Said), watching from the wings as well as clips of a protest and Fascist leaders. Yara also hovers around Rosie in a fairly inexplicable way in one scene, pretending to smoke as she discusses “traces” of memory. There’s also a wacky wig, an odd workout bench, and a strange incest reference. The play, written in 2003 and revised in 2006, has some very solid ideas, but they get lost in the narrative fog; there’s a Twilight Zone quality to the plot, but unfortunately it turns out to be more like one of the TZ reboots rather than the Rod Serling original. (By the way, anyone remember Beverly Hills Buntz, the failed spin-off from Bochco’s Hill Street Blues?) Pomerance might have been addicted to NYPD Blue and looking for a metaphorical, metaphysical way to keep it going, but Spin Off is destined to be put on one of those shelves where failed pilots and spin-offs go to slowly fade away.