Wednesday, August 15, 2007

'Gone Missing' finds humor in cop stories


August 15th 2007

Turns out that New York's Finest are also New York's Most Theatrical.

The evidence can be found at "Gone Missing," a bittersweet Off-Broadway musical about loss that uses the small and tangible - a mislaid wallet, say, or scarf - as a way to tap into yearning for what's irrevocably left us.

But one of the hit show's most memorable characters doesn't lose things. He finds them. And oh, the things that he uncovers.

Gary Gorman is a retired NYPD cop who worked for years in the Emergency Services Unit, a squad called in to particularly sticky situations, from hostage crises to building collapses.

The theater company The Civilians - which created this show, like all its productions, by interviewing dozens of people - found Gorman through tours he gives about jumpers on the Brooklyn Bridge. Gorman's crime-scene tales of dead bodies and severed heads serve an important purpose: The lost scarf, no matter how beloved, is still a scarf.

Gorman's observations, in contrast, "snap you back into perspective on what's important," says Civilians artistic director Steven Cosson. "The stories Gary's character brings into the play are what make the rest of it work."

Ironically, they also make people laugh. Gorman and Stephen Plunkett, the actor who plays him, tread a fine line in bringing humor to what could be a grim subject.

"Obviously, finding someone's head is not something to make light of," says the amiable Gorman. "But you have to" - he forces a laugh - "to keep yourself going in that type of work."

Gorman loves seeing his experiences burst into life on stage. "I'm a ham," he says. "To see yourself portrayed by other people is flattering."

There's an unexpected payoff as well. "Most police officers desensitize themselves. You really have to," Gorman says. "Seeing this performance made me a little more sensitive. Because sometimes you can get too cold."

As an actor, Plunkett loves sharing Gorman's charm and humor, not just the grisly stuff, with audiences at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow St.). "There's this great joy that Gary takes in communicating these stories," he says. "It's fun to have that running through your veins every night."

And it's nice to play someone you like, he adds. Looking at Gorman, he says, "How could you jump off a bridge with this guy telling you not to?"