It’s Law and Order viewed through a slightly skewed lens. It has a little of the old Dragnet and a lot of humor and some interesting afterthoughts. Brenda Withers’ new play, The Deer and the Antelope, offers a look at a community reacting to a sudden and personal act of violence, a glimpse of the absurdity of the need to assign responsibility, and a question about how people rise–or fail to rise–to difficult occasions.

A real estate agent, Paulie (Robert Kropf) rents an apartment in a dodgy neighborhood to Kelly, a young single woman (Winslow Corbett), who assures her mother that all is well in her new home despite the need for bars on her windows. But all is patently not well, as the audience learns when it’s revealed that Kelly has been murdered. Two police detectives, Beemb (Jonathan Fielding) and Riches (Robin Bloodworth) investigate her death, and they immediately take on more than just solving the crime, offering instead a running commentary on the process and effects of gentrification, the role of policing, and the absurdity of statistics—for the victim, after all, the murder rate is 100%.

Paulie, who started out bluff and self-assured, has a crisis of conscience over this death. He struggles with the office owner, played by Brenda Withers, and with his girlfriend Mel (Emily Nash), neither of whom give him the easy answers he’s looking for. Did he contribute to Kelly’s death by renting her an apartment he knew was in a dangerous area? Do people kill cows when they eat hamburgers?

His insights open the audience to the “voyeurism of murder” so mourned by Kelly’s sister Lea. Ordinary people become extraordinary in the light of sudden violence, and, as one of the detectives notes, the public will suddenly “put your name in the middle of sentences.”

Deer and the Antelope

It’s a fast-paced, witty look at the thoughtlessness behind progress and the meaning of home, both for those pushing gentrification and those it displaces. The simplicity of Withers’ vision–a series of quick scenes giving different angles on the same events–underscores both the seriousness of the topic and the humor with which it’s delivered.

Back on-Cape after some terrific work on Broadway, Fielding plays the just-the-facts-ma’am cop perfectly, without a glint of humor, the straight man to almost every other character on stage as he opines, “there’s a lot of theres here.” Nash strikes just the right note as the girlfriend frustrated and then suspicious of Paulie, and Withers herself is a perennial delight, bringing freshness to the role of Paulie’s boss, who isn’t the brightest pixie in the forest (“someone hit her with concrete?” she gasps when she hears of the murder), struggling to balance her humanity with business concerns.

But it is truly Kropf who steals the show. His paced, measured pronouncements give import to idle conversations, and while one is always wary of actors who manage to play themselves while appearing in different roles, Kropf–like Meryl Streep and a very few others–manages to transcend both. He is totally, completely immersed in the character of Paulie, while at the same time just as completely owning the role.

Another of Harbor Stage’s plays without a named director, The Deer and the Antelope ends the company’s season on a note of pensive laughter… perhaps the best way to leave any performance.

photos by Joe Kenehan

The Deer and the Antelope plays at the Harbor Stage Company through September 2nd.