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STAGE | THEATER NOTES

Law and Disorder

Former police officer's wife pens a tale of abuse.

June 05, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"P.O.W.," the title of Claudia Adams' play at the Ventura Court Theatre, stands for police officers' wives. But the title is double-edged. Adams' premise becomes clear in the play: When a woman marries a police officer, she becomes his prisoner.

Adams--a veteran "Cagney and Lacey" scriptwriter--says she speaks from experience. Her lifelong dream of becoming a writer was interrupted briefly in the 1970s when she fell in love and married a policeman. What she found to be the frighteningly insular police community became the basis of her fictionalized drama.

"I thought maybe it was just a story that didn't mean anything to anyone else," Adams says. "Now I realize it means something to a lot of people out there, about what happens when a woman becomes the possession of a man who thinks he's above the law."

The memory of her years as a police wife burned inside her for some two decades.

But she knew her fictionalized story--which contains vivid scenes of domestic abuse--would frighten people who want to maintain a good image of the officers who protect them.

"I'm not saying anything bad about police. I'm just saying that they are human beings, and each one should be judged separately. Society creates heroes. We give them guns or power or money or authority--whatever it is we give them, sooner or later somebody is going to abuse that power. They think they've become above the law."

Adams says that, although men enter law enforcement with noble intentions, they quickly realize that few people want a cop around. As a result, they're forced into creating a private society. Their wives become part of that society but are not allowed to talk about it, she says, lest they tarnish the image of the police.

"I came very close to jeopardizing that image," Adams says. "I got in a lot of trouble, and it was time that I had to leave."

She abandoned that life and headed west, penniless but scared even to use her credit card. Slowly, she began to rebuild her life and writing career in Los Angeles.

The fictional protagonist in "P.O.W." is played by Emmy winner Ellen Wheeler. The production is directed by John DiFusco, whose Vietnam-era play "Tracers" was an international hit.

DiFusco compares the play's portrayal of the power syndrome among police with its counterpart in the military, an issue he explored in "Tracers." But his interest in this play stems from its exploration of domestic abuse, which he says he saw in his own family.

DiFusco says: "There's a passionate love affair going on [in the play], but there's also a sickness involved in the middle of it. It's a subject I haven't dealt with theatrically, and there's certainly an empowering statement for women when you get to the end."

Adams and DiFusco are not looking simply at domestic abuse; they're trying to uncover the dynamics between police officer and wife that lead to it. By the end of the play, Adams says, "I think you really understand where they're coming from. You sympathize with them."

BE THERE

"P.O.W." at the Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Ends July 13. $18. (818) 953-9993.

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