CLEAN, Factory Theater. Michael Meredith's last Factory outlet was Being at Choice, a dead-on parody of a support group coming unstuck. But that ballsy comedy is a far cry from the schizoid curiosities of Clean, a strangely shifty play that purports to spoof TV shows like Cops. Resembling scuzzy outtakes from true-crime series, early scenes depict white-trash losers taunting the patient police until the inevitable cuffing and Mirandizing. Then, recklessly aiming for both laughs and gasps, Clean meanders into a painfully predictable tale of two good cops who try not to cross the line and three bad cops who rival the rotten apples in L.A. Confidential and Cop Land.
Meredith has a good ear for cops' gallows humor. And he can certainly gild the grotesque: coming out of a shoot-out, a cop wearily requests a "killing your own partner" form. But though opening scenes suggest a stylized satire of the docudrama excesses that make Cops both over-the-top and down and dirty, Clean turns into a moral melodrama with knee-jerk Tarantino-style violence and a perfunctory ending. It's as if Barney Miller suddenly morphed into Reservoir Dogs.
Meredith's staging is slowed by blackouts and deliberate pacing. But Steve Walker brings bilious sarcasm to his corrupt detective, and Mike Beyer and Michele Suffredin have contagious fun depicting a roguish street gallery. Still, just when the plot needs all the humor it can get, Meridith's slices of lowlife become less funny and more politically incorrect.