GableStage's A Steady Rain: Well-acted, poorly written
At times, A Steady Rain, now showing at GableStage, feels like a classic noir tale of good cops gone rotten in the Windy City. At others, it takes a Breaking Bad-like turn by adding shock value and plot twists. The play is rife with melodrama and driven by dual narratives told through monologues.
The 90-minute performance is ostensibly about two longtime friends whose lives are irrevocably changed by a bad chain of events. But it can also be described as the anatomy of a fucked-up cop. It was written by Keith Huff, who originally penned it for the Powerhouse Theater at Vassar and the Chicago Dramatists in 2007 (the play eventually landed on Broadway, where the two cops were played by Hollywood megastars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman). Huff was also a writer on season four of the hit AMC series Mad Men and the Steven Spielberg-produced Why We Fight.
So you'd think it would be a compelling stage play, particularly because the acting in GableStage's production is outstanding. Indeed, there's a powerful story waiting to emerge from the thicket of words and meandering, David Mamet-like dialogue. But there's not enough action to bring out what should be an exhilarating tale.
The play tells the story of Joey (Todd Allen Durkin) and Denny (Gregg Weiner), two veteran Chicago cops who have known each other since "kinnygarten." They find their friendship strained when Denny's home is shot up by a pimp he's been hunting down for years, and a crapstorm follows. Denny, a complex man with a surplus of inner demons, seeks out vengeance any way he can. Joey, Denny's recovering alcoholic partner, tries to stand by his buddy while overlooking his many flaws. Denny is a racist. He's also conducting an ongoing affair with one of the pimp's hookers, and he's not above using violence and intimidation on the job, nor skimming a piece of the action on drug busts. All the while, Joey is in love with Denny's wife, who is well aware of her husband's philandering.
Everything comes to a boiling point during a seemingly routine domestic violence call, when the two cops inadvertently hand a frightened Vietnamese boy over to a cannibalistic serial killer who claims to be the kid's uncle.
The plot is a blend of unresolved tensions and shit-hitting-the-fan outcomes, where lives and friendship and marriage and career are all in a state of disrepair. The story weaves through Joey and Denny's telling of their side of things. It all takes place while a rainstorm falls on the city for days on end.
Huff's storytelling is rich and often poetic. Unfortunately, that's all there is. The mostly middling script is brought to life through outstanding performances by Todd Allen Durkin and Gregg Weiner, two GableStage veterans brimming with intensity. Most of the value of this play is in their blistering performances. The two actors play off each other masterfully, revealing a paradoxical view of deeply flawed men caught up in dark, somber crises.
Durkin has performed in standout productions such as Bug, Blasted, and Reasons to Be Pretty. He will appear in a recurring role on Starz's new Miami-based Mad Men-esque series, Magic City, this spring. In Huff's play, he is all genuine, emotional intensity as Joey. His sullen and subdued performance reveals the cop as a weak, timid man who is stunted by fear and who finds inner strength through his own moral compass.
The always-excellent Weiner, last seen at GableStage in his Carbonell-nominated performance in Red last November, and who will also appear in Magic City, is at his best when he's a blustering, foulmouthed cynic. He turns in a savage performance as the deeply troubled Denny.
Lyle Baskin's set design is one of GableStage's more inventive in recent memory. At the center of the stage, which is split into three parts, sit a table and two chairs beneath a window backed by a painted silhouette of buildings. The stage is framed by a replica scaffolding of Chicago's elevated railway. Baskin peppers the scenes with sounds of rolling trains, gunshots, and rain. He effectively uses an oscillating light to make a silkscreen effect of falling rain on a matte painting of the city's skyline. Jeff Quinn's azure-blue lights lend the proper noir-like feel by keeping things dim as in a storm.
Joseph Adler's direction helps the one-act play move fluidly. Adler, who has a knack for attracting wonderful actors to GableStage, usually gets out of the way and lets the actors and stagehands work their craft. Credit the fantastic production and artistic design team of Baskin and Quinn, as well as Matt Corey, who provides the sound effects and music.
A Steady Rain debuted on Broadway in 2009 and subsequently broke nonmusical box office records, earning more than a million dollars in its first week. That was mainly because the roles were being played by Hollywood heavyweights Craig and Jackman. At the time, Time magazine called Huff's play "taut and tough-minded," while Variety deemed the characters "compellingly complex figures."
At its heart, the play does show snippets of why Huff is a rising star as a playwright and screenwriter. A Steady Rain might work as a major motion picture, which Huff is writing for EON films, but as a stage play, it has limitations. The character narrations provide fuel for a potentially harrowing story. But the fuel is essentially all you get. The rest is left to your mind's eye. Huff's imagination, it would seem, is the play's biggest flaw.
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